Russia blocks UN report on millions from Darfur mining

UNITED NATIONS: Russia is blocking the release of a confidential UN report showing that pro-government militias in Sudan’s Darfur region rake in $54 million per year in gold mining.

The annual report by the panel of experts was presented in December to a UN sanctions committee, but it has not been made public due to objections from Russia, which has friendly ties with the Khartoum regime.

“We don’t want it to be released because we have been saying since the beginning that the experts are not behaving like they are required to,” Russian Deputy Ambassador Petr Iliichev told reporters.

Iliichev argued that the panel’s mandate does not include monitoring “natural resources.”

The UN Security Council will on Wednesday discuss the crisis in Darfur, where a joint UN-African Union mission is struggling to help civilians caught up in fighting between rebels on one side and the Sudanese army and its affiliated militias on the other.

The conflict remains a divisive issue at the council, with the United States, Britain and France accusing the Sudanese regime of rights abuses while Russia and China defend Khartoum in the face of an insurgency.

In the  report, the UN panel said it was certain the Jebel Amir artisanal gold mines were controlled by the pro-government militia, Abbala Armed Group (AAG), led by Sheikh Musa Hilal, who has been on a UN sanctions blacklist since 2006 over allegations of widespread atrocities.

A “substantial portion of the gold mined at Jebel Amir Mines” is first sent to El Geneina, Darfur and then taken to Khartoum by air, before being illegally exported to the United Arab Emirates, said the report obtained by AFP on Tuesday.

“The panel is thus almost certain that the AAG has an income of $54 million per annum, based on lower case estimates,” the report said. The experts quoted a letter from the Sudanese government dated from November 2015 saying that there were no armed groups in the Jebel Amir area, but the panel said it was unable to verify that claim.

The panel recommended that the Security Council ask Khartoum to take steps to ensure that gold and other minerals from Darfur are “conflict-free”, but no action will be taken until the report is accepted by the committee.

Darfur descended into conflict in 2003 when ethnic minority insurgents rebelled, complaining the region was being economically and politically marginalised by the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum.

Some 300,000 people have been killed in the conflict and there are 2.5 million people in the region who have been forced to flee their homes, according to the United Nations. AFP