BBC Claims UN Peacekeepers Gave Arms to Congo Militias

KINSHASA, Congo -- Peacekeepers from Pakistan and India smuggled gold and ivory and gave arms to militias fighting in eastern Congo, the British Broadcasting Corp. alleged Monday, saying it had new witness accounts refuting UN claims that no weapons transfers had taken place.

UN officials could not immediately be reached for comment. The UN previously has said it found some evidence of smuggling involving peacekeepers, but no exchanges involving arms.

The BBC first made similar allegations more than a year ago, and the UN launched an investigation into reports that its troops were involved.

The BBC, returning to the region to follow up its original report, said it found witnesses who backed claims of UN-militia arms trades in the mining town of Mongbwalu and said weapons were given to militias there to guard the perimeters of gold mines and to secure the region.

A former militant, who was not named, also told the BBC he saw seven boxes of ammunition being brought from a UN camp to resupply a militia called the Nationalist and Integrationist Front during a battle. Former leaders of the militia jailed in the capital, Kinshasa, also told the BBC they received weapons from UN peacekeepers.

The BBC report said a separate contingent of Indian peacekeepers had flown a UN helicopter into Congo's Virunga National Park to trade ammunition for ivory with a Rwandan rebel group -- whose commanders directed that country's 1994 genocide. It did not provide further details.

The UN said in July it had opened an investigation into charges that Indian peacekeepers sold arms to Congolese militias near the Rwandan border.

The BBC said "confidential UN sources" told its reporters that they had been blocked from investigating the allegations of arms trading for "political reasons" -- a suggestion that reports were buried to avoid embarrassment to key allies in U.S. anti-terrorism efforts and major contributors to UN missions.