The United Nations expert panel recommending
ways of improving the arms embargo on Côte d'Ivoire has called on the
Security Council to more tightly define the ban on weapons flows in the
divided country after encountering "widespread confusion" among neighbouring
West African countries, civil society groups and UN officials themselves.
The confusion ranged from the status of the Ivorian air force and the procurement of dual-use equipment that could be used for military action, to uncertainty about the role of the Council's Sanctions Committee and Panel of Experts itself, says Panel Chair, Greek Ambassador Vassilakis, in the experts' first report to the Security Council since they took up their mandate this past April to analyze all relevant information in Côte d'Ivoire, which is divided between the rebel held North and Government controlled South.
"[The] Panel believes that this could be improved by the Security Council Committee on Côte d'Ivoire issuing a statement of clarification...and emphasize that organizations like the International Cocoa Organization should fully cooperate with Security Council mandated investigations," he says.
In a February resolution, the Council, aiming to strengthen its then two-month-old weapons ban on Côte d'Ivoire, asked Secretary-General Kofi Annan to set up a three-member expert panel to, among other things, gather and analyze all relevant information in Côte d'Ivoire and countries in the region on arms flows and consider and recommend ways of improving the capabilities of States in the region to implement the embargo.
According to the report, in May, the Panel began a swing through the West African region, with stops in Côte d'Ivoire and its key neighbouring countries -- Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso and Senegal. Following visits to Togo and, farther afield, to Belarus, the Panel liaised in Guinea with its counterpart dealing with arms flows in and around Liberia.
Along with a general uncertainty about the Council's strategy among the regional governments and the wider civil society, the report notes "a lack of clarity" among officials in the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) who were responsible for monitoring compliance with the embargo.
The report says that the status of the Ivorian air force should be cleared up, particularly since media and NGOs in the region reported that they believed the Council had allowed the Government to repair its aircraft neutralized in November 2004 by French action. The Forces nouvelles rebels have also complained that UNOCI allowed the Government to repair its aircraft and that this indicated a double standard.
Another issue for clarification is the procurement of dual-use-equipment such as jeeps or transport helicopters and night-vision equipment. A number of States believed that these items fell outside the embargo, even though they could be used for military action.
Among its other observations, the Panel said that the overall situation could perhaps be improved by a trip by the Security Council Committee to the region, which would "draw attention to a statement but also assist in educating about the role of the Sanctions Committee." The Panel also believes that UNOCI would benefit from having an in-house customs expert to assist its efforts to monitor the Ivorian ports.