Clinton Presses Congo on Minerals

aleqm5ir9b2tkafw1gshr0bo6bgy_tpxogKINSHASA, Congo — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived in Congo on Monday to push the Congolese government and the United Nations to end the longstanding bloodshed here, taking special aim at the illicit mineral trade that helps fuel the conflict.

“I am particularly concerned about the exploitation of natural resources,” she said, referring to Congo’s vast reserves of diamonds, gold, copper, tin and other minerals.

She said that illegal mining was one of the root causes of Congo’s violence and that armed groups were sustaining themselves off the mineral riches. “There is a lot of money being made in eastern Congo,” Mrs. Clinton said.

The war in eastern Congo may be Africa’s worst right now, and Mrs. Clinton is hoping that her visit will revitalize efforts to end a dizzyingly complex conflict involving neighboring countries, dozens of rebel groups and a toxic mix of ethnic and commercial interests.

The fighting and its fallout — mass displacement, hunger and disease — have claimed millions of lives in the past decade.

On Tuesday, Mrs. Clinton will fly to Goma, in the heart of the battle zone.

It was not an easy decision to go there, she said. The city was nearly overrun by rebels last year and lies in a bowl of beautiful but treacherous green mountains, making it difficult for aircraft to land and resulting in several fatal air crashes in recent years.

But Mrs. Clinton said the importance of the visit outweighed the risks.

“Lots of concerns were raised, and objections,” she said. “But I said, ‘This is something I want to do, and we’re going.’ ”

In Goma, Mrs. Clinton plans to meet with several women who have been raped, the more personal consequences of this unending war. The United Nations calls eastern Congo the rape capital of the world because hundreds of thousands of women have been sexually assaulted by the various militias haunting the hills. Recently, there has been a sharp increase in cases of men raping men as well.

“Women are being turned into weapons of war,” Mrs. Clinton said on the plane from Angola to Congo, the fourth stop on her seven-nation African tour.

The Congo visit has a sharper point to it than many of the other stops. Mrs. Clinton has cast herself as an advocate for women — and in many ways she is seen as a role model across the world — and eastern Congo desperately needs something to lift it out of its morass of violence, which seems increasingly unsolvable.

On Monday, Mrs. Clinton shared the stage at a town hall meeting with Dikembe Mutombo, a Congolese basketball star who made millions playing professionally in America and came home to build a hospital. Mr. Mutombo spoke passionately of his country’s problems and the sense of defeat creeping across the land.

“Don’t lose your hope,” he told students gathered at the meeting. “That is what is happening in Congo, especially among young people. You are losing hope. You are thinking that nobody cares about you.”

Mrs. Clinton has explained that a big part of this Africa tour is to show that America does care about the continent, and not just because President Obama’s father was Kenyan.

Again on Monday, in both Angola, a huge oil producer and emerging African heavyweight, and Congo, Mrs. Clinton spoke of reformulating the United States-Africa relationship. She emphasized the need to work together on regional issues, like ending the various African wars, and on global issues like climate change.

Angola, which used to be an Eastern bloc ally and the venue of one of the cold war’s most intense, longest-running battles, seemed to respond warmly. The foreign minister, Assunção dos Anjos, called Mrs. Clinton’s visit “the most sublime, most magnanimous moment” that “changes everything.” Later in the morning, Mrs. Clinton spoke with Angola’s president, José Eduardo dos Santos, about environmental issues, democratic reform and possible American-Angolan military cooperation, in talks that Mrs. Clinton’s aides described as “superb.”

But in Congo, that message is a tougher sell.

At the town hall meeting, one student stood up and asked Mrs. Clinton if he were to become president of Congo tomorrow, and if he tried to be independent from the West and follow his own ideas, would he be assassinated? It was a not so thinly veiled reference to Patrice Lumumba, Congo’s first democratically elected prime minister, who was killed in 1961 with the help of the C.I.A.

Mrs. Clinton was not defensive.

“I can’t excuse this past and I won’t try,” she said. Congo and much of Africa, she said, have been dominated by “a history of colonialism and abuse.”

But the question, she said, is this: “Will I be dragged down by the past, or will I decide to do something to have a better future?”

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