Democratic Republic of Congo - a sad State of Affairs

The designated Group of Experts, working on behalf of the Security Council of the United Nations, produced a lenghty and thorough report in January 2005 on the situation in this African country; a picture of an outlaw states jumps at you...
I was mainly interested in aspects of aviation and parts concerning sanction busting individuals and/or airlines and have copied, with permission, parts of this report; the full report can be found at: DRC report S/2005/30 to the Security Council of the UN.

 

11. In addition to time limitations, United Nations security restrictions and logistical constraints have continued to shape the geographical scope of the Group's investigations. For those reasons, the Group was unable to conduct two key field assessments, one along the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Sudan and the other along the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo with Burundi, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia, where it wished to assess specific coastal areas around Lake Tanganyika.

19. Peace and security in the Democratic Republic of the Congo continue to be marred by cyclical and at times highly publicized crises that are localized militarily but have significant repercussions on the stability of the entire transitional process. After the events of Bukavu in June 2004, the dissident Congolese forces of General Laurent Nkunda and Colonel Jules Mutebutsi were sidelined but continued to pose a potential threat.

Scope of the problem
A. Clarification of the arms embargo
26. In the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, many areas suffer from the absence of State authority and hence the extension of law and order. This vacuum permits armed groups and militias in the Ituri District as well as political networks of interlinked commercial and military interests in the Kivu provinces to exercise control over their respective domains. Even in areas where a semblance of homage is paid to the Transitional Government in Kinshasa, local political and military actors sporadically flex their military muscle, threaten to destabilize the political process or support allied foreign or proxy forces to hold Kinshasa at bay.
The dearth of State controls applies to the security forces as well as the civilian bureaucracy. In many areas, troops, in theory under the command of the État-major du renseignement militaire in Kinshasa, follow local orders and act in accordance with their own vested loyalties and interests.

27. In other areas, seemingly more under the control of the Transitional Government, key political and military leaders of the parties that are signatories to the Global and All-Inclusive Agreement on the Transition continue to exert independent control over fiefdoms and sectors of the economy, issue orders to troops loyal to them and execute decisions related to the procurement, stockpiling, movement and distribution of weapons, which are outside the unified chain of command.

28. These political and military realities have an impact on the effectiveness of the arms embargo. The Group found that, given such developments, the terms of the arms embargo referred to in resolution 1493 (2003) are subject to a variety of interpretations.

35. Within Ituri and the Kivus, local politicians and warlords maintain their troops, security apparatus and constituencies outside the control of the Transitional Government through the steady income generated by transnational mercantile networks and border revenue as well as by controlling trade routes, markets, commodities and natural resources inside the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

[38]…both Rwanda and Uganda maintain security arrangements with leaders of armed groups in the embargoed regions, under the pretext that the Democratic Republic of the Congo has so far failed to disarm rebel forces.

V. Civil aviation
39. The Group determined during its second mandate that armed groups in the Ituri District and the Kivu provinces continued to receive embargoed material by air. The aviation component of arms trafficking is especially important given the logistical difficulty of road transport in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the geographic patchwork of territorial control by the various armed factions. It is more likely that arms transferred by land or lake will be intercepted than those transferred by air, as in the latter case there is often a more direct link between supplier and recipient parties. Aircraft can also effectively link points of arms supply in neighbouring countries such as Rwanda or Uganda, or in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with the military frontlines or strongholds of the armed groups, including, for instance, Walikale (North Kivu) or Mongbwalu (Ituri). As such, aircraft are used for immediate microshipments of weapons.

40. The vast number of airfields and the remoteness of many airstrips, as noted in the Group's first report, render adequate detection by the arms embargo monitoring mechanism difficult. The Group continues to receive information that armed groups are resupplied in areas under their control at secluded landing strips or via airdrops at places where it is currently unable to investigate because of United Nations security restrictions or logistical constraints. Other reports indicate that armed groups receive supplies at secondary airports at which MONUC has either an insufficient presence or no presence at all.

41. The aircraft commonly used for these arms transfers are the single-engine Antonov 2 and the twin-engine Antonov 8, Antonov 28 and Antonov 32 aircraft, which are capable of landing on poorly maintained or makeshift runways.

42. The Group attempted to obtain a list of all aircraft registered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as relevant documentation, including registration, airworthiness certificates, insurance certificates and pilots' credentials, that air companies in the eastern part of the country claimed were in the possession of the Civil Aviation Authority in Kinshasa, as would normally be expected. The Group requested this information orally and in writing from the head of CAA in Kinshasa on 9 December 2004. He told the Group that CAA was in a "state of disarray" and did not currently have updated information, particularly on operations in the east.

B. Violations of the embargo, airspace and regulations
1. Embargo violation: the supply of military uniforms
45. Without prior landing authorization, a Yakovlev (Yak) 40 plane, registered as EK-88262 (no images found on the internet -webmaster) and belonging to Simeron Enterprises LLC of Armenia, made an unscheduled landing at Goma airport on 14 August 2004. It was registered in the Goma RVA logbook as flying under the name of KABI International. The crew submitted contracts to the Group indicating that the plane was expected to be leased to Aerofreight Congo in Brazzaville as from 10 August 2004.

51. The Yak 40 is owned by Simeron Enterprises, an Armenian company that plies military surplus trade, with its address listed as Rue Karmir Banaki, base 7, ville d'Abovian, Armenia. The names and identification of the responsible crew members are in the Group's archives for further reference. In an exchange of e-mail messages with the Group, Simeron's director in Armenia, A. Avetisyan, stated that the uniforms had been intended for the Luft Cargo company, that they had the Simeron Enterprises logo on the back and that the blue FAC emblem on the sleeve stood for "Federal Aviation Centre".

52. Mr. Avetisyan also informed the Group that the relevant authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo had not responded to any official requests by the Armenian Government or his company on the status of the plane or charges against the crew.

53. Simeron has maintained an office at 46 Avenue Tombalbaye in Kinshasa and has operated a second aircraft, an Antonov 2, registration number EK-02301 (no images found on the internet -webmaster). Both of the aircraft mentioned have a history of flying in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In their signed statement, the crew members declared that this Antonov 2 was based at Goma. The Group found no evidence of this but did determine that the aircraft had arrived at Goma airport from Khartoum on 10 August 2004 and was registered in the RVA logbook under the name Luft Cargo.

2. Airspace violation: a near miss with a MONUC aircraft
Click here 56. For example, an Antonov 12 aircraft, 3C-AAG, operated by Air Navette, was nearly involved in a mid-air collision with a United Nations aircraft departing from Bunia on 11 November 2004. The Air Navette plane, flying without the required operational transponder in controlled high-level airspace, did not follow air traffic procedures when entering Congolese airspace over reporting point Sipki enroute from Entebbe to Isiro. Air Navette provided the Group with an explanation of events, including a flight plan, a flight report and a written statement by the pilot in command.
(Photo: copyright Marc Lauer ©)

 

3. Private airports: used for violating regulations for entry into the Democratic Republic of the Congo
57. The Group documented the arrival of international flights at the privately owned Beni-Wageni airport, in violation of customs and immigration regulations. For instance, two Antonov 26 aircraft, 9Q-CEZ and 9Q-CMJ (no images found -webmaster), belonging to the Beni-based company Gloria Airways, arrived from Khartoum on 28 May and 4 August 2004 respectively. The Group attempted on numerous occasions to obtain information from Gloria Airways concerning those flights, including the flight plans, cargo manifests and the planes' registration certificates, to no avail. However, a Gloria Airways employee informed the Group that the aircraft arriving on 28 May had transited through Cairo and Juba, Sudan, and had carried approximately 30 passengers from Ukraine and the Russian Federation, as well as aircraft spare parts. According to this employee, the planes arriving in Beni were part of Gloria's plan to expand its fleet of aircraft, which he claimed had already been registered temporarily as 9Q (Democratic Republic of the Congo) to facilitate operations immediately upon arrival. Serge Laktanov, the head of Gloria Airways, contended that the second aircraft to arrive from Khartoum at Beni, 9Q-CMJ, was not a Gloria Airways plane, despite its being registered in the Beni RVA logbook as such. The Group is still investigating the case and is concerned about the lack of scrutiny over illicit entries into the Democratic Republic of the Congo by those managing the airport, thus creating suspicion of complicity in circumventing the sanctions.

58. Two other international flights arriving at the private Beni-Wageni airport in violation of customs and immigration protocols were registered under the name of a South African company, Pilot Air. The two Let 410 aircraft, registered in Swaziland as 3D-ERS and 3D-ETY (no images found -webmaster), arrived in Beni from Khartoum on 7 and 8 May 2004 respectively. The aircraft then departed for Kinshasa one day after their arrival in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

4. Improper registration: convenient disguise for illicit activities
59. Aigle Aviation operates four aircraft in Bukavu and Goma. Two Antonov 28s are based at Bukavu airport, with Rwandan registrations 9XR-KI and 9XR-KV (no images found -webmaster).
Another Antonov 28, registered in Burundi as 9U-BHR (no images found on the internet -webmaster), as well as a Let 410 with the Congolese registration 9Q-CEU (no images found -webmaster), are based at Goma airport. During its investigations, the Group documented a false aircraft registration and the absence of airworthiness certificates for two of its planes, generating more reservations as to the legality of activities involving the aircraft.

60. The plane registered as 9U-BHR was registered in Burundi on 22 September 2004, according to documents submitted to the Group by the aircraft operator. On the documents, the owner is listed as Savran Pavlo, in care of Kivu Air in Bujumbura. However, the Director of Kivu Air requested from the Burundian authorities the de-registration of the aircraft after the operators of the plane refused to hand it over to Kivu Air upon its arrival in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as initially agreed. According to documents provided to the Group by the Burundian Régie des services aéronautiques, the matriculation number for this Antonov 28 aircraft, 9U-BHR, was de-registered on 12 November 2004, making its continued use by Aigle Aviation illegal.

61. Another aircraft, an Antonov 26 leased by Mango Mat Aviation from Volga Atlantic Airlines, was also registered illegally as 9U-BHR. The aircraft arrived in Beni from Ukraine via Khartoum on 28 August 2004 and was operated in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo under this fake registration until it received a new Congolese registration, 9Q-CAW (no images found -webmaster), on 8 October and was repainted at Goma airport.

5. Aircraft as an asset for armed groups
63. Most aircraft operating in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are headquartered in the relative safety of such urban centres as Bukavu, Goma, Beni and Bunia. During commercial operations, they seldom stop over in contested territory under the control of militia or other armed groups for longer than is required to complete the onloading and offloading of cargo because of insecurity.

6. Embargo violation: the ferrying of militia
Click on image

65. Some aircraft have developed a reputation for transporting arms, soldiers and militia groups. One such plane is an Antonov 8 flying with a false Liberian registration, EL-WVA, and belonging to the Compagnie Aérienne des Grands Lacs. On 13 October 2004, the aircraft transported 10 UPC militia members from Bunia and provided a return routing for Goma.
[Photo © Michel Bonnardeaux]

 

7. Suspect air companies linked to international arms brokers
66. The Group devoted considerable effort to documenting the activities of two associated air companies based in Goma, the Great Lakes Business Company and the Compagnie Aérienne des Grands Lacs, both of which are managed by a prominent pro-RCD Goma businessman, Douglas Mpano. Both companies operate aircraft that had previously been de-registered because of suspicion of involvement in violating the Liberian arms embargo. The Group, upon discovering these aircraft, liaised with the Panel of Experts on Liberia to work jointly on furthering its investigation.

67. Numerous sources interviewed by the Group noted that the aircraft operated by those two companies were linked to the network of internationally renowned arms broker Viktor Bout through one of his frontmen, Dimitri Popov. The history of ownership and registration of both companies' aircraft also supports this connection. Mr. Mpano told the Group that Mr. Popov was his supplier of aircraft spare parts but refused to speak further about this association. Businessmen interviewed by the Group, who hire Mr. Mpano's aircraft for cargo transport, volunteered that Mr. Popov was integral to the management of GLBC and CAGL operations and that they often negotiated directly with Mr. Popov on matters pertaining to the hiring of GLBC planes, even when he was in the United Arab Emirates or the Russian Federation.

Click here 68. GLBC currently operates a fleet of five aircraft: two Antonov 32s, registration 9Q-CMG and 3C-QQT, one Antonov 12, registration 9Q-CGQ, and two Antonov 2s, registration UN-79954 and EX-70306.
[Photo: © Torben Guse.]

 

69. Mr. Mpano confided to the Group that the Antonov 32, serial number 1407, with registration number 3C-QQT (no images found -webmaster) painted on its tail, was a de-registered aircraft. The aircraft had been officially suspended from its Equatorial Guinea registration in February 2002, along with seven other aircraft registered under the name CET Aviation, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, after a report of the Panel of Experts on Liberia connected the company to sanctions-busting networks. Before being registered in Equatorial Guinea in May 2001, the plane had been registered in the Central African Republic under the name San Air General Trading, likewise based in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, from October 1999 until September 2000. Both CET Aviation and San Air General Trading were identified by the Panel of Experts on Liberia as being associated with Mr. Bout.

70. Furthermore, Mr. Mpano confided that his aircraft, with Kazakhstan matriculation number UN-79954 (no images found -webmaster), had also been de-registered. The Group has reason to believe that the number painted on the tail enabled the aircraft to disguise its operations as MONUC flights, which might account for the numerous reports received by the Group from non-aviation sources of suspicious flights and weapon deliveries attributed to the United Nations.

71. The Group obtained documents concerning the Antonov 12 aircraft registered 9Q-CGQ (no images found -webmaster) that indicated that the plane had been insured jointly, on 11 November 2004, in the name of Great Lakes Business Company, with the address listed as P.O. Box 315, Goma, and Ilex Ventures Ltd, with the address listed as Cassandra Centre, Offices 201 & 202, 2nd floor, 29 Theklas Lyssioti Street, P.O. Box 58184, 371 Limassol, Cyprus. The Group contacted the company in Cyprus by phone and was told that it could not release information to the Group until it had checked with representatives in Moscow. The Group subsequently received a fax from the Cyprus director, Petros Livanios, who stated that Ilex Ventures did not have any joint projects with GLBC and did not operate any aircraft jointly with GLBC in the region or elsewhere.
The Group will continue to investigate the related activities of Ilex.

72. Although Ms. Severin is the current owner of CAGL, Mr. Mpano confirmed to the Group that he was a director of the aviation company. CAGL operates one aircraft, an Antonov 8 registered EL-WVA (serial number OG 3440), which was grounded on 9 November 2004 after the Group inspected the plane and informed RVA that the aircraft was operating illegally. Pursuant to Security Council resolution 1343 (2001) concerning sanctions on Liberia, all aircraft using the Liberian prefix "EL" were required to be grounded by May 2001, at which time a new Liberian prefix "A8" would be applied. According to the Panel of Experts on Liberia, a notice to airmen was published to advise the international aviation community of this registration change. RVA permitted CAGL to continue using the EL prefix, despite the notice.

73. This EL-WVA aircraft had also been previously registered by Mr. Bout's company Air Cess in Liberia. Apparently the aircraft was operated under two registrations simultaneously. It was sold by Mr. Bout's company Transavia Travel Agency of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, to Compagnie Aérienne des Grands Lacs for "USD 1.00 and other valuable considerations" on 30 November 2000, according to the bill of sale that Ms. Severin provided to the Group. The bill of sale entitled the seller to ongoing interests in the activities of the plane. The Group further obtained a certificate of airworthiness for the EL-WVA stamped by the Ministry of Transport of Liberia valid from 1 November 2001 until 1 November 2003, a false document according to research conducted on behalf of the Group by the Panel of Experts on Liberia.

click on the image 74. However, the Group was also provided with a letter indicating that the aircraft (with the same serial number, OG 3440) had been registered in Equatorial Guinea as 3C-QQE and given clearance for operations by the Uganda People's Defence Forces early in 2003. The aircraft had been used for flights between Entebbe and Bunia under the auspices of Santair Cargo Ltd, Showa Trade Company, KM Air and UPDF. The aircraft had then been repainted with the EL-WVA registration in May 2003 and resettled in Goma.
[Photo: © Torben Guse]

 

8. Special dispensation granted
75. The case of EL-WVA is noteworthy because the aircraft had been singled out by Kinshasa and local RVA authorities to be grounded twice before, once after a near crash due to engine failure. On both occasions, provincial authorities provided special dispensation and cleared the aircraft for immediate use. Such aircraft have become invaluable to local business networks and political actors because they operate at substandard fees, driving out normal, legitimate companies, and share their profits with those who grant them patronage. These aircraft are able to operate at a lower cost precisely because they are not properly maintained or insured and because they pay only nominal operational and registration fees, if any.

C. Bukavu-Goma airport operation
1. Overview of results
80. The Group attempted to inspect 26 aircraft at the Bukavu and Goma airports, of which 11 were registered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 4 in Rwanda, 3 in Equatorial Guinea, 2 in Burundi, 2 in Swaziland and 1 each in the Republic of Moldova, Sierra Leone, South Africa and under the discontinued Liberian registry. The operators of two aircraft, registered in Rwanda and Equatorial Guinea, refused to provide documents to the Group even after further entreaties.

81. The Group was particularly interested in verifying whether the 24 aircraft for which documents had been submitted were legally registered at present, whether their airworthiness certificates were current and whether the aircraft were insured. Those three sets of documents, if absent, expired or forged, can often indicate the status of illicit operations, which is of particular relevance for aircraft operating in an embargoed region. The results of this analysis are provided in the table below.

Valid expiration date: not included false expired none / denied
Registration 3 15 6 2
Airworthiness 17 4 3 2
Insurance 13 8 3 2

82. Concerning the certificate of registration, only three aircraft had documents that remained valid and identified the date of expiration. Another 15 aircraft had registration certificates that did not indicate the date of expiration, with 6 having either false or expired registration certificates. The lack of an expiration date may lead to a situation in which more than one plane is granted the same registration number. The Group found that the opposite was true for airworthiness certificates, with 17 specifying the date of expiration compared to 4 that did not. Three aircraft were problematic: one did not have an airworthiness certificate, only an expired laissez-passer issued in Kinshasa; two others had false certificates. Furthermore, the insurance documents for 13 aircraft remained valid, another 8 did not have a date of expiration and 3 had no insurance at all. Of concern to the Group was the fact that 12 insurance policies did not cover the aircraft's operations in United Nations sanction areas or war zones.

83. The Group was particularly concerned about the status of aircraft registered in Equatorial Guinea and Rwanda. Four aircraft were registered in Rwanda (9XR). In one case (9XR-KI) the Group was denied access to documentation and the other three had questionable paperwork. For example, they had Rwandan registration documents that were no longer valid. Of the three aircraft registered in Equatorial Guinea, the Group was denied access to documentation in one case (3C-QQT), and a second plane (3C-BAA) was not known to civil aviation authorities in Equatorial Guinea. The Group suspects that the aircraft was never officially registered, making its registration and airworthiness documents fraudulent.

85. The Group was denied access to documents on three occasions. Mr. Mpano, the head of the Great Lakes Business Company, refused to provide documents for the aircraft with the registration number 3C-QQT, which had been suspended by the Government of Equatorial Guinea in 2002. Pilots of Aigle Aviation aircraft 9XR-KI also refused to provide documentation, as did the crew of Swala Aviation aircraft ER-AJC. After the crew initially refused to cooperate, the head of Swala Aviation provided documentation for his aircraft to the Group. The Group remains concerned that the Swala Aviation aircraft is owned by TEPavia-Trans, based in the Republic of Moldova, which also owned an aircraft, registration ER-AJG, that crashed at Kamina military base in October 2003. This flight was operated by an aviation company based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Flight Express, and was suspected of transporting arms, but MONUC military observers were prevented from verifying this by FARDC soldiers stationed around the aircraft.

D. Need for regional efforts
90. Despite the fact that they are involved in commercial operations between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, those aircraft do not appear to be subject to the 30 April memorandum of understanding. The aircraft used or leased by Air Navette, Showa Trade, Volga Atlantic and Services Air are mainly Antonovs that are registered not in Uganda but in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. The Group reviewed logbooks at airports in the Kivus and Ituri and has documented numerous flights associated with those companies' aircraft during the Group's mandate.

2. Burundi: more cautious towards registrations 91. Burundi has in the past served as a flag of convenience for operators in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by issuing aircraft registrations for their planes and licences for foreign pilots. Relevant international bodies, including the Panel of Experts on Liberia, had exerted pressure on the Burundian Régie des services aéronautiques to remedy this situation. In response, Burundian authorities are scrutinizing outside requests for Burundian aircraft registrations more meticulously.
For example, on 19 October 2004, Burundian civil aviation authorities received an inquiry from a company based in Salem, Oregon, United States, about the possibility of registering an Antonov 8 aircraft for operations in the Great Lakes region of Africa. After discussions with the representative, the Burundians rejected the request stating that they no longer authorized registrations of Russian planes operating abroad.

92. While the Group received good cooperation from Burundian aviation authorities on several of its ongoing investigations, it would like to press the Burundian authorities to expedite the inquiry into the dual use of the matriculation number 9U-BHR. Furthermore, the Group is encouraged by the publication of the civil aviation code, dated 31 July 2001, and the decision taken by the Burundi Régie des services aéronautiques to validate existing licences rather than issue Burundian pilot licences to foreigners.

3. Rwanda: a failure of cooperation 93. The Group continues to be gravely concerned about the lack of cooperation received from Rwanda on civil aviation matters.


 

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Last updated 12.3.2009