September 7, 2006

Security guards abuse locals, says report

An Angolan human rights activist has accused private security companies in parts of the diamond-rich country of systematic human rights abuses against the local population.
Rafael Marques said in a report entitled, "Operation Kissonde: the Diamonds of Humiliation and Misery", that guards working for three companies in the Cuango municipality in Lunda Norte province were guilty of beatings, humiliation, sexual abuse and enforced labour.
"The Cuango region (is) under the effective control, from a military point of view, of the private security forces.” Marques is a journalist and former Angolan representative for the Open Society Institute, a U.S.-based rights group. He was arrested in 1999 for criticising the government. Repeated attempts to contact the companies over several days were unsuccessful. Government officials could also not be reached for comment.
Chief of the U.N. Human Rights office in Angola, Vegard Bye, said that he could not comment specifically on the report but that several human rights violations had been documented in diamond-rich areas of the country. "There is no doubt that one of the major human rights problems we have in Angola today is the one we find in the diamond areas," Bye said. "We have many documented cases of killings and other human rights abuses," he added.
Cuango is around 7.000 square kilometres with a population of some 140.000. It is known for attracting undocumented immigrants eager to make money from artisan alluvial diamond mining, known in Angola as garimpo. "Upon the end of 'Operation Brilliant' (a government operation to rid the country of illegal diamond miners) in February 2005, these private security firms assumed complete responsibility for combating all clandestine prospecting throughout the Cuango region," the report said. It further alleged senior military and police officials were among the shareholders of the firms and through these had powers which enabled them to profit personally from the region's diamond wealth. (Rts)

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