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The Usual Suspects: Liberia's weapons and mercenaries in Côte d'Ivoire and Sierra Leone

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Executive Summary

This report documents the involvement of the Liberian Government in the international markets for illegal arms and mercenaries, and how its access to these outlets has permitted Liberian President Charles Taylor and his associates to launch and maintain a mercenary attack in Côte d'Ivoire, and begin implementing an incursion into Sierra Leone.

In Côte d'Ivoire, President Charles Taylor has used his illegal arms imports and ties to groups of ex-combatants to organise, arm and deploy the two Western Ivorianb rebel groups: the Popular Movement for the Ivorian Great West (MPIGO)c and the Movement for Justice and Peace (MJP)d. The Liberian Government's aim is to destabilise the current Ivorian Government and install a leader more amenable to the Liberian Government.

In Sierra Leone, the Liberian Government has planned a two-pronged attack, activating cells of well-armed, Liberian paid operatives already within Sierra Leone, which will be joined by an external force of Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU) fighters attacking from Liberia. Fearing prosecution for war crimes by the Special Court in Sierra Leone, President Charles Taylor and his closest associates plan to disrupt the Court's proceedings, release ex-RUF leader Foday Sankoh, and regain full access to Sierra Leone's lucrative diamond resources. The Liberian Government's cross-border strategies, combined with the UN's continued withdrawal from Sierra Leone, are setting the stage for regional turmoil.

Liberia's continued access to illegal arms and mercenaries is due to the availability of funds and logistics provided by the Liberian timber industry. The omission of timber sanctions in Resolution 1343 (2001) Adopted by the Security Council at its 4287th meeting, on 7 March 2001e and Resolution 1408 (2002) Adopted by the Security Council at its 4526th meeting, on 6 May 2002f has allowed Liberia to maintain regular imports of arms and cash to pay both its domestic security forces and the mercenaries recruited for Côte d'Ivoire and Sierra Leone.

The information contained in this report results from extensive Global Witness investigative interviews and research trips conducted across four continents. The key findings are:

The Liberian Government continues to import illegal weapons on a regular basis, which come primarily from Eastern Europe but transit through Libya, Nigeria, and France. Most weapons are delivered by ship to Buchanan and Harper ports, with shipments coming in two or three times per month. Additional deliveries are made by air to Robertsfield International airport (see When: Regular Delivery of Illegal Weapons in 2002 and 2003, page 26). Liberian logging companies remain actively involved in facilitating illegal arms shipments, both for the government's forces within Liberia and for the mercenaries fighting in Côte d'Ivoire. MWPI, based at Harper port, receives weapons at Harper port and ships them to its River Gbeh bush camp, where they are stored for use by the MPIGO and MJP rebels groups (see Where: Points of Entry for illegal arms, page 26).

The Liberian Government is directly involved in the Côte d'Ivoire conflict through its control of the two western Ivorian rebel groups, MPIGO and MJP. President Charles Taylor's goal is to maintain a land-route to Burkina Faso, destabilise the Gbagbo regime, install one more favourable to Liberia, and create an escape route should he be threatened by the situation in Liberia.

The MPIGO and MJP forces are comprised of 90% Liberian and Sierra Leonean mercenaries, many ex-RUF, which were assembled in Liberia and sent across in the months prior to their initial attack on 28 November 2002, under the command of Cucoo Dennis and Benjamin Yeaton. President Charles Taylor continues to maintain ties with ex-RUF forces, including Sam "Maskita" Bockarie, who commands 1,000 mercenaries fighting for Taylor in Côte d'Ivoire (see The Liberian Government in Côte d'Ivoire, page 29)

The Liberian Government has begun implementing a plan to destabilise Sierra Leone using cells of ex-RUF, ex-Sierra Leone Army (SLA), and ex-juntag fighters inserted into the country. There are four cells, one based in Freetown, with additional sub-cells within the army and police forces. A second invasion force plans to attack from Liberia near the border with Foya-Kamala. President Charles Taylor's primary goal is to disrupt the functioning of the Special Court, by which he and many close associates expect to be indicted (see Plotting ahead: The Liberian Government's plans for Sierra Leone, page 31). The Liberian Government is delivering small amounts of weapons for these cells into Sierra Leone two or three times per week by small boats.

The Liberian Government is hiding large sums of embezzled money in bank accounts in Switzerland, Burkina Faso and Côte d'Ivoire. Liberian deposits in Swiss accounts are more than either Nigeria or South Africa, and are, at a minimum, approximately US$3.8 billion.

The Oriental Timber Company and its importer to China, Global Star (Asia) Trading, have been directly linked to the large mainland Chinese timber processor Global Timber Corporation, which has very close ties to the Chinese government. All three, through a complex network of off shore companies and registrations, have a common investor.

The Liberian Government's access to the international arms and mercenary market is largely dependent on the Liberian timber industry, and the financial and logistical support it provides to this end. In order to restrict the Liberian Government's ability to engage in such aggressive, cross-border activities, Global Witness calls upon the United Nations to recognise the facilitative role the timber industry plays with this regard, and impose sanctions on timber exports.

Recommendations

The UN Security Council should:

Immediately impose a complete embargo on the export and transport of Liberian timber, and its import into other countries. Such an embargo should remain in place until it can be demonstrated that the trade does not contribute to any armed groups, including the Movement for Justice and Peace (MJP) and Ivorian Popular Movement of the Great West (MPIGO) rebels in Côte d'Ivoire, former Revolutionary United Front (RUF) combatants and Liberian logging company militias.

Pass a new resolution on Liberia that takes a comprehensive approach on the role of Liberia as a threat to international peace and security. This resolution should specifically incorporate the Liberian Government's actions in supporting the MPIGO and MJP rebel groups, ex-RUF members in Côte d'Ivoire, and any other armed groups supported by the Liberian Government.

Instruct the Secretary-General to mandate any further Panel of Experts on Liberia to conduct detailed investigations into the role of the Liberian logging industry in fuelling national and regional destabilization, to enable the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and other members of the international community to gain a comprehensive understanding of the role of this industry. The UNSC should ensure that a panel member with extensive knowledge of the logging industry be employed to partake in investigations. Any further Panel of Experts on Liberia should also conduct detailed investigations into any other Liberian industries that constitute a threat to international peace and security.

Expand the mandate of the United Nations Office in Liberia (UNOL) to include more robust investigations of the Liberian Government's involvement in illegal arms imports, activities in neighbouring countries, and human rights abuses. UNOL should also me mandated to play a bigger role in organising and overseeing the upcoming October 2003 elections.

Instruct, via the Liberia Sanctions Committee or other means, global financial institutions, and in particular Swiss banks and the Swiss Attorney-General, to investigate suspicious bank accounts with links to Liberia, and in particular accounts linked to those persons subject to the UN Travel Ban.

Recognize the significant role that timber plays in funding conflicts, and agree on a definition of conflict timber and how conflict timber is exploited as a war commodity, just as diamonds and oil. The trade in conflict timber should be prohibited under international law.

The UN Secretary-General should:

Ensure that a new study on possible humanitarian effects of timber sanctions in Liberia be carried out. Such a study should incorporate the negative consequences of the timber industry upon the Liberian population. The Secretary-General should ensure that the information is independently verifiable and from non-biased sources.

The International Community should:

Ensure that all arms-trading countries refrain from selling weapons to West Africaa in accordance with the Moratorium on the Import, Export and Manufacture of Small Arms and Light Weapons of the Economic Community of West African States, and from providing any support to armed rebel groups, including the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Increase humanitarian aid to Liberia as a matter of urgency, channeled through UN agencies and Non-Government Organizations (NGOs). The donor community should ensure that citizens of Liberia are aided until their country returns to active peace and security.

Emphasise the importance that countries target arms traders and brokers, by imposing stringent arms-trading laws targeted at preventing the illegal trade in weapons.

The European Commission should:

Adopt the Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament which proposes the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan and then bring in a Regulation banning the importation of illegally-sourced and conflict timber into the EU, as soon as is practicably possible. The Banks of Switzerland should, under the guidelines of the Swiss Federal Banking Commission:

Fully investigate the activities of all bank accounts with links to Liberia, and in particular to those persons subject to the UN Travel Ban, in accordance with Swiss federal anti-money laundering legislation. Banks should report any suspicious accounts to the Swiss anti-money laundering authorities and the Swiss state attorney general for further investigation and legal prosecution. Accounts should emain frozen until such a time that it can be shown that the Liberian Government is no longer plundering state resources and that funds are not the proceeds of crime or corruption.

The Government of Sierra Leone should:

Take a leadership role in lobbying for the Kimberley Process to have a regular, independent monitoring mechanism, to ensure that the process is working and not open to abuse. The Government of Sierra Leone should also strengthen its own diamond certification system by introducing a credential licensing system for diamond-buying middlemen, and increasing the capacity and coordination of government agencies involved in the diamond trade to prevent conflict diamonds from entering the legitimate diamond trade.

Exact effective controls and photographic registration of all combatants entering the country.

The Special Court should:

Prosecute individuals who aided and abetted in the planning, preparation or execution of a crime by providing funds, weapons and logistics to rebel groups, in particular the RUF, through the pillaging of natural resources. Specifically, the Special Court should recognise the role of the Liberian timber industry in financing and facilitating illegal diamond and weapons deals during the conflict. Those responsible should be prosecuted under the mandate of the Special Court.

The Liberian Government should:

Immediately recall and cease sending rebels into Côte d'Ivoire and providing logistic and material support.

Ensure that logging companies operating in Liberia, particularly the Oriental Timber Company (OTC) and Maryland Wood Processing Industries (MWPI), immediately halt illicit arms import into, and transport within, Liberia and neighbouring countries.

Ensure that logging companies operating in the country do not employ armed militias, and that they immediately halt all human rights abuses committed upon the Liberian population.

Ensure that the country's timber industry is run according to the best international standards of sustainable forest management, and that all timber revenues due to the State are directed to the Central Bank of Liberia, and not to the extra-budgetary expenditures of the Executive Mansion.

Fulfill its obligations under UN resolutions to undertake a full and internationally verifiable audit of revenue generated by its timber industry and shipping and corporate registries.

The logging companies operating in Liberia and companies importing Liberian timber should:

Disclose aggregate information about taxes, royalties, fees and other transactions with the Liberian Government and/or public sector entities, in order to create transparency.

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