An expert panel investigating the illegal exploitation of natural resources and other forms of wealth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has gathered at United Nations Headquarters in New York for consultations before heading to the Great Lakes region to begin its work.The five-member Panel is expected to arrive in Nairobi on 24 March to begin holding a series of meetings with companies, individuals and Governments identified in the Expert’s most recent report as participating in illicit or criminal exploitation of raw materials in the DRC. The talks are expected to last a few weeks, and those named in the report will then have until late May to formulate their reactions.While in Nairobi, the Panel will also aim to work out a procedure for an exchange of information, which will take place within approximately two or three weeks of those initial meetings with companies, individuals and Governments. The secretariat will publish the parties’ reactions as an attachment to the Panel’s last report by 20 June.In late January, the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution reiterating its commitment to take action to help end the plundering of resources in the DRC in support of peace and stability in the entire Great Lakes region, and extended the Panel’s mandate for six months.Under its new mandate, the Panel is tasked with recommending measures that could be taken to ensure that the DRC’s resources are legally extracted, on a fair commercial basis to benefit the Congolese people. The Experts also have been asked to review their previous recommendations in order to reinforce and update their findings to reflect new concerns, such as how capacity building and reforms in the region are affecting exploitation activities. The Panel will present a briefing to the Security Council after three months of fieldwork and submit a report at the end of its mission to UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan.”Our new mandate is a challenging one,” said Ambassador Mahmoud Kassem of Egypt, the Panel’s Chair. “In carrying it out, the Panel hopes to contribute concretely to advancing the peace process in the DRC.” He added that in the coming months, the Experts look forward to establishing a constructive and open dialogue, which will be of great mutual interest, with all concerned parties.Along with Ambassador Kassem, the Panel includes Alf Görsjö of Sweden, Mel Holt of the United States, Bruno Schiemsky of Belgium and Ismaila Seck of Senegal. An additional Panel member will be named in the coming weeks.