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CONGO: Anvil Mining Hammered Over Military Assistance

by Peter GonnellaMineWeb
June 8th, 2005

PERTH -- Just days after AngloGold Ashanti fended off allegations of paying bribes to militia groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Anvil Mining has come under intense scrutiny over its supply of air and ground transport to the DRC army for an operation that led to the alleged slaughter of more than 100 people last October.

It is understood the government requested the use of Anvil’s air services and land vehicles to help mobilise Congolese troops to Kilwa, about 50km from the company’s Dikulushi mine and where a rebel incursion had been reported.

While this week confirming it acquiesced to the government’s wishes, Anvil insists it had no choice and vehemently denies any responsibility for what transpired at Kilwa. “Anvil had no option but to agree to the request, made by the military of the lawful government of DRC,” said the Australia-based DRC copper and silver producer in an ASX statement. “Anvil had no knowledge of what was planned for the military operation, and was not involved in the military operation in any way.”

The Kilwa rebel activity saw Anvil evacuate non-essential mine personnel and suspend production at Dikulushi for a short time. In its December 2004 quarterly report, the company appears to be commending the army’s response. “The government and military response on both provincial and national levels was rapid and supportive of the prompt resumption of operations,” the miner stated.

Chief executive Bill Turner, who has been under siege since the initial findings of a damning UN report were revealed, has lashed out at suggestions Anvil played a hand in the massacre which, the UN indicated, may have included up to 28 executions. “The idea that Anvil somehow influenced the military action, or should be seen as complicit in the military action, is nonsense,” he said. “The allegations made against Anvil are deplorable, and without foundation.”

Allowing the DRC’s armed forces to deploy the Dikulushi mine’s trucks and hired plane has stirred up a hornet’s nest and Anvil’s attempted distancing from the events that ensued is not washing with some observers. Aid agency Oxfam Australia executive director, Andrew Hewett, believes the deaths might have been prevented if Anvil had adhered to international human rights standards the Aussie Government has agreed to. “Blind Freddy can see that companies should not be lending transport to armies that have a track record of human rights violations,” he said. “A lot of people might still be alive if Anvil had not, by its own admission, assisted the army in a brutal crackdown.”

Furthermore, Anvil faces the prospect of a civil claim from local victims, and the law firm considering taking on the case, Slater & Gordon (S&G), has also asked – on behalf of a number of NGOs – the Australian Federal Police to look into the matter to ascertain whether there are grounds for a criminal action. According to S&G lawyer Richard Meeran, mounting a successful legal case against Anvil would rest on the key factor of the company’s awareness of how the DRC army planned to handle the “small-scale” rebel uprising and the likely outcome. “I think the company ought to have known, because it is a matter of record of the reputation of the Congolese military in terms of brutality,” he contended. “It is important that companies that get involved in this type of thing should be held to account.”

Based on the UN investigation, the rebels surrendered without resistance. And in the Kilwa carnage that followed unarmed civilians and sympathisers were also killed. “Certainly primary responsibility for what happened must rest with the Congolese military,” Meeran added. “But that does not in any way enable a company which is known to have aided and abetted a military regime carrying out these kinds of atrocities, and knew about the likely consequences of assistance, … to escape liability.”

There seems to be a fine line between alleged culpability and the rationalisation behind Anvil’s exoneration of itself. “We were not part of this. This was a military action conducted by the legitimate army of the legitimate government of the country. We helped the military get to Kilwa and then we were gone,” Turner said during a TV interview. “Whatever they did there, that is an internal issue, it ha nothing to do with Anvil. It is an internal government issue. How they handle that is up to them.” Turner’s retort of “so what” to the perceived implications of Anvil’s decision to give the DRC army access to the mine’s transport services and facilities has probably not cast the most favourable light on Anvil’s empathy rating.

Apart from the possible compensation payouts and convictions that could arise from the Kilwa incident, Anvil has a lot more to lose than AngloGold was it to pull out of the DRC as Dikulushi is currently the Perth-based junior’s main asset. Meantime, its shares continued to tumble – another four percent by the close of trading Wednesday to A$0.36.

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