updated 5/23/2007 7:29:58 PM ET 2007-05-23T23:29:58

Pakistani U.N. peacekeepers charged with disarming Congolese militia instead might have engaged in gold and weapons trafficking with militia members, the BBC reported Wednesday.

The BBC said U.N. investigators looking into the allegations of trading in gold and weapons were obstructed and threatened, adding that their report was buried to avoid embarrassing Pakistan, a large contributor to U.N. missions around the world.

An official at U.N. headquarters denied the report was buried, saying its investigations always take time because of difficulties in the field and the need to conduct a comprehensive inquiry.

The U.N. Mission in Congo said it had been aware of the allegations of gold and weapons trafficking in 2004-05 in the Ituri district in northeastern Congo, and the U.N.'s internal watchdog launched an inquiry in 2006 soon after the allegations surfaced.

U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said two investigations are under way.

One involves allegations that a peacekeeping contingent "was involved in mineral resource exploitation and weapons trading in the town of Mongwalu" in Ituri, she said. The other involves allegations that the probe by the internal watchdog, the Office of Internal Oversight Services known as OIOS, was obstructed by peacekeepers, she said.

"Both investigations have gone on and they should be out shortly," Montas said at U.N. headquarters.

She said OIOS expects to complete its inquiry into the gold and guns trafficking in about three weeks and its findings will then be sent to the Department of Peacekeeping and the U.N. Mission in Congo "for action." Under U.N. procedures, "once the OIOS report is released, member states will be provided with the report upon request," she said.

"The secretary-general looks forward to the early completion of the investigation," Montas said. "He will act on its findings expeditiously and transparently. If wrongdoing is found to have occurred, he will hold those responsible accountable. The secretary-general calls upon any concerned member states to do the same."

Obstruction report filed in April
The report on the U.N. Mission in Congo's investigation into the alleged obstruction of the trafficking inquiry was received by the U.N. Peacekeeping Department in April, the U.N. official said. Earlier this month, the department asked OIOS for further details, the U.N. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

The U.N. Mission in Congo said it had confidence in the "vast majority" of its peacekeepers in Congo, some of whom have been accused of misconduct. It noted that more than 15,000 militia members have been disarmed in Ituri.

The BBC quoted a witness statement given to the U.N. by a Congolese officer working to disarm militiamen: "Repeatedly he saw militia who had been disarmed one day, but the next day would become rearmed again. The information he could obtain was always the same, that it would be the Pakistani battalion giving arms back to the militia."

The BBC also quoted Evarista Anjasubu, a businessman in northeastern Congo, as saying he had known of gold transactions between Pakistani officers and two of the most notorious militia leaders.

The militia have carved out territory in eastern Congo, giving them control of some of the wealth in the mineral-rich Central African nation that has suffered decades of civil war and dictatorship. Relatively peaceful presidential elections last year could mark a turning point, but the government continues to struggle, with help from the U.N., to eradicate the threat posed by the militia.

The 18,000-member force in Congo is the U.N.'s largest peacekeeping operation. It is credited with helping organize and police the elections, and has lost scores of men in clashes with militiamen, who include Congolese as well as forces from neighboring countries.

But the U.N. force also has been hit by scandal. The United Nations found in 2005 that peacekeepers in Congo had sex with Congolese women and girls, usually in exchange for food or small sums of money.

On the BBC report, the statement from the U.N. Mission in Congo said it "does not comment on investigations in progress," and that its operations in Congo had "an absolute zero-tolerance policy on misconduct and will remain vigilant in preventing egregious and unacceptable behavior."

Pakistan officer feels 'singled out'
Tasnim Aslam of Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement in Islamabad saying authorities there "will look into the matter to ascertain facts."

Maj. Gen. Wahid Arshad, the spokesman for the Pakistan army, would not say whether his force planned its own investigation.

"Troops from other countries had also been deployed in Congo, and why is it that we have been singled out by the BBC?" he said, adding: "Let the U.N. probe it, if it wants, and as far as we know, the U.N. has not said anything against us."

The U.N. official said the Pakistani unit in question deployed to Mongwalu in April 2005.

A report in February by OIOS, which covers peacekeeping activities from July 2005 through December 2006, criticized the U.N. mission's disarmament and demobilization program in Congo. It cited the lack of an approved plan, the lack of coordination with other U.N. activities, the lack of plans and resources for a public information campaign, and the need for an evaluation of the program.

The U.N. Mission in Congo "did not accept most of the OIOS recommendations, generally asserting that existing practices were adequate and that the OIOS proposed oversight structure for disarmament and demobilization was not effective," the report said. "OIOS has reiterated the recommendations and continues to pursue them."

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