Australian mining company's managers indicted for Congo massacre

Thursday, November 2, 2006

A Congolese prosecutor has called for three former managers of the Perth-based Anvil Mining corporation to be indicted for "complicity in war crimes" - involvement in the massacre of up to 100 people in the village of Kilwa in October 2004. The slaughter, committed by Congolese Armed Forces soldiers ferried to the scene by Anvil-chartered planes and company-owned trucks, took place 50 kilometres from the company's Dikulushi silver and copper mine in the south-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Katanga Military Court prosecutor Colonel Eddy Nzabi Mbombo on October 12 recommended the prosecution of Pierre Mercier, a Canadian who at the time of the killings was the resident general manager of Anvil's Congo subsidiary and also deputy general manager of the Australian- and Canadian-listed parent company Anvil Mining Limited. Mbombo also recommended the charging of two South African citizens, Peter Van Niekerk and Cedric Kirsten, who were the managers in charge of security at the Dikulushi mine. Nine Congolese soldiers, including commander of the Congolese Armed Forces' 62nd infantry brigade Colonel Ademar Ilunga, are also recommended to face charges.

Mercier, Van Niekerk and Kirsten are accused of having "voluntarily failed to withdraw the vehicles placed at the disposal" of the troops and of having "knowingly facilitated the commission of war crimes by Colonel Ademar and his men". According to Mbombo's investigation, Ademar's forces summarily executed at least 25 civilians during a rampage of rape, torture and looting.

Details of the massacre emerged on June 6, 2005, when ABC TV's Four Corners aired reporter Sally Neighbour's investigation into the Kilwa massacre (). According to eyewitnesses, on October 14, 2004, a motley band of 10 or so poorly armed young "rebels" entered the village. With about 100 local supporters, they looted Anvil's depot, stealing fuel and food. The rebels, according to a June 6, 2005, ABC radio report "were unhappy with the Australian company they believed was taking multi-million dollar profits from mining silver and copper out of the country, yet was giving little in return to the community that provided its work force".

Anvil halted operations at the Dikulushi mine and evacuated all non-Congolese staff, other than its security managers. The Congo government in Kinshasa was alerted and the 62nd infantry brigade was flown to the area in planes chartered by Anvil; Anvil-owned trucks carried the troops to Kilwa. The "rebels" surrendered almost immediately, with no loss of life on either side. However, it was then that the bloodbath began.

A UN report released in October 2005 found that more than 100 people were murdered. Of the information the UN was able to gather on 73 of the deaths, at least 28 were summary executions.

The UN report found that the soldiers responsible for the massacre "used vehicles of the mining company Anvil Mining during their operation in Kilwa. These vehicles appear to have been used to transport pillaged goods as well as corpses — which may have included victims of summary execution — into the area of Nsensele; there MONUC [the UN monitoring force] located two mass graves … MONAC was able to confirm that three drivers of the company Anvil Mining drove the vehicles used the [government troops]. MONAC was also able to confirm that food was provided to the armed forces … Anvil also appears to have acknowledged to have contributed to the payment of a certain number of soldiers."

Three days after the massacre at Kilwa, Anvil's mine re-opened. In January 2005, Anvil reported in a press release the mine's resumption of operations was "carried out efficiently and without incident. The government and military response on both provincial and national levels was rapid and supportive of the prompt resumption of operations."

When Four Corners asked Anvil's Perth-based CEO Bill Turner about the military's use of company planes and trucks in the massacre, his reply was "So what! So what!"

In June 2005, Melbourne law firm Slater and Gordon, representing a number of Congolese NGOs, asked the Australian Federal Police to investigate Anvil's complicity in crimes against humanity under the Australian Criminal Code Act 1995. In September 2005 the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade referred the matter to the AFP. Apparently, its "investigation" is "ongoing".

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