21 November 2005

Uganda: Congo Expels Timber Dealers

Kampala — THE DR Congo authorities have barred Ugandan timber dealers from entering the country for alleged smuggling.

Ibrahim Waligo, the mobiliser of the Arua Timber Dealers Association, an umbrella organisation for over 400 dealers operating in DR Congo and Sudan, said last week all Ugandans engaged in felling trees there had been directed to vacate.

DR Congo, which is the biggest source of Ugandan timber, has taken action to allow fresh negotiations.

Uganda has been accused of exploiting Congolese resources including timber, gold and other precious minerals during the 1998 invasion.

"For long, the Congolese have been accusing us of smuggling timber through fake documents and yet it's their appointed officials in the forest departments who issue clearance documents," Waligo said.

He said the Congolese had impounded timber worth millions of shillings. Waligo said they had dispatched a delegation to negotiate on their behalf at Falagi district headquarters.

However, DR Congo's concern seems to be the growing number of rebel groups planning to use Congo as a launch pad for war against the Uganda.

Kinshasa-based UN envoy to the Great Lakes region, William Swing, said recently that the UN had information that there were several negative and armed forces in eastern DR Congo.

The number of Ugandans entering DR Congo under the disguise of timber dealers has created suspicion among the security agencies who believe that wrong groups could take advantage of the open borders to sneak into Congo.

Arua resident district commissioner, Omony Ogaba, said he had written to his Congolese counterparts to "handle the impounded cases legally."

He stressed the need for safety of Ugandan nationals and property involved in the seizure. Eleven trucks were later released.

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