Congo court clears former Anvil staff of war crimesPublished by MAC on 2007-06-28
Congo court clears former Anvil staff of war crimes
By Joe Bavier, Reuters
28th June 2007
KINSHASA, June 28 (Reuters) - A military court in Democratic Republic of Congo acquitted three former employees of Australian mining company Anvil Mining Ltd on Thursday of complicity in war crimes by government soldiers in 2004.
"All of those accused of war crimes, including the former Anvil mining agents have been acquitted. The charges of war crimes were found to have been unfounded," the president of the military tribunal, Colonel Joseph Mokako, told Reuters from Lubumbashi, the capital of mineral-rich Katanga province.
Canadian Pierre Mercier and South Africans Peter Van Niekerk and Cedric Kirsten had been accused of wilfully offering logistical assitance to Congolese soldiers during a shortlived armed uprising in the mineral-rich Katanga province.
Scores died in a massacre of civilians in the town of Kilwa, near the southeastern border with Zambia, when government forces launched a counter-attack to retake the town after it had been seized by a group of 10 ill-equipped rebels in October 2004, a U.N. human rights investigation found.
Anvil runs the nearby Dikulushi silver and copper mine and the company's trucks and planes were used by the army during the operation. Anvil said its vehicles were requisitioned by the military and it had no choice but to hand them over.
Van Niekerk, the former security director at Dikulushi, and Mercier, Anvil's country manager at the time of the events, both returned to Congo to stand trial. Kirsten, believed to have been out of the country during the uprising, was judged in absentia.
"We are pleased that the court rendered a decision that supported Anvil's consistent position that the company and its employees acted in an appropriate manner at the time," Anvil CEO Bill Turner said in a statement after the verdict announcement.
Nine Congolese soldiers also on trial before the military tribunal were acquitted of war crimes. However, two officers received life in prison for the killing of civilians, and two other soldiers received shorter sentences for lesser crimes.
CONFLICT AND MINERALS
Congo is still emerging from a 1998-2003 war in which rebel groups and foreign armies battled for control over the vast central African nation's abundant natural resources.
An estimated 4 million people have been killed since Congo's war began, mainly from hunger and disease. Some areas still suffer regular violence despite a U.N.-backed peace process and polls last year that elected President Joseph Kabila as Congo's first democratically chosen leader in more then four decades.
The country's government began a review this month of mining concessions and partnership deals to bring order to a mining sector left in chaos by decades of mismanagement and conflict.
Many had hoped the trial, which received logistical support from Congo's U.N. peacekeeping mission, would help put an end to the climate of impunity that still reigns in the country.
However, human rights campaigners decried the replacement of the court's military prosecutor in February, fearing the move was a sign of political meddling, and victims' supporters said Thursday they were disappointed by the trial's outcome.
"This decision is an injustice," human rights lawyer George Katiamba, who represented the victims and their families during the six-month trial, said shortly after the verdict was read.
"For the victims to find justice, we think this is a case that should go before the International Criminal Court."