The Democratic Republic of Congo’s government suspended four top security officials for failing to prevent violence by a separatist militia in mineral-rich Katanga province that killed at least 15 people dead last month.
About 250 Kata Katanga militants, whose name means “cut out Katanga” in the Swahili language, fought government soldiers and police in the provincial capital, Lubumbashi, on March 23 before surrendering at a United Nations compound.
Army and police commanders in Katanga were aware of the militia advance “but they did not understand the gravity of the situation,” Claudel Andre Lubaya, the head of a parliamentary commission investigating the attack, told reporters yesterday in the country’s capital, Kinshasa. The United Nations initially estimated 35 people had died.
After years of conflict and instability, Congo’s mining industry has flourished since 2009, with copper production doubling to about 600,000 metric tons last year, most of it coming from Katanga in the southeast. The Central African country was the eighth-largest producer of the metal in 2012, accounting for 3.4 percent of world output, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It also produces half of the world’s cobalt, used in rechargeable batteries.
Lubumbashi, a city of 1.5 million people, is a hub for copper and cobalt miners operating in Congo, including Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., Ivanplats Ltd. and Glencore International Plc.
Regional and provincial officials from the police department, immigration ministry and intelligence unit were suspended, according to a government statement e-mailed yesterday.
The proliferation of rebel forces seeking independence for Katanga stems from economic inequality within the province and across the country while local authorities have been fanning tensions, Lubaya, a member of the opposition, said.
“There are no schools, there are no hospitals and these people are dying next to these mining companies that pump out our resources and sell them on the markets,” he said. “Katanga is a powder keg.”