Global Policy Forum

Conflicts in Africa -


By Dr. Alexander von Paleske

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August 3, 2007

The past conflicts in Africa during the last 15 years in Sierra Leone, Angola, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, and the present conflict in the Eastern DRC have brought death and suffering to millions and made a few people very rich, amongst them Victor Bout (Butt, also But) known as Africa's "Merchant of Death". He sold and delivered weapons ranging from submachine guns, tanks, helicopters to anti-aircraft missiles and thus made wars possible or fuelled them. He sold and sells to anybody, who can pay spot on, accepting only payment cash on the barrelhead or in natural resources, preferably diamonds.

His most prominent clients were Charles Taylor (Liberia), Jonas Savimbi (Unita/Angola), Eduardo dos Santos (Government Angola), Government of Belgium, US-Pentagon, US companies in Iraq, Foday Sankoh (Sierra Leone), Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe), Mobuto Sese Seko (Zaire, now Democratic Republic of Congo), Jean-Pierre Bemba (Democratic Republic of Congo), Burhanuddin Rabbani (Afghanistan) Taleban and AlQaeda in Afghanistan before 2001 and lately the Islamic Courts in Mogadishu and Hezbollah in South Lebanon.

He delivers his deadly cargo usually within a fortnight to the doorsteps of his customers, thanks to his fleet of approximately 50 Russian airplanes with continuously changing registration numbers and companies. Names of his airline companies cropping up are: Air Moldavia, Transmoldavia, Regional International Air Services, Ducor World Airlines, Irbis Air, Air Bas, Air Pass, Cargo Airlifts, Air Cess, Centrafrican, British Gulf, San Air, Aerocom and many more.

Who is Viktor Bout?

Viktor Bout, according to one of his many passports, was born in 1967 in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, formerly part of the Soviet Union, however he claims to be born in Turkmenistan. Whichever his birthplace was, he joined the army of the former Soviet Union and graduated from Moscow's Military Institute in 1991 being now fluent now in 6 languages. After the crumbling of the Eastern Bloc, his skills were no longer in demand. So he started a weapons procurement and transport business in Ostend/Belgium with Russian planes, supplying the Belgian troops in Somalia in the early 90s.

That business soon came to an end, as the peacekeepers pulled out, however he quickly found a new customer: The Islamic government of Afghanistan under Burhanuddin Rabbani. After the Taleban ousted Rabbani, he supplied the Taleban with weapons including their comrades of Al-Qaeda. Bout not only supplied weapons, but also offered fairly regular charter flights from his new base Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates to Afghanistan for Terror-tourists, eager to visit Osama bin Laden and learn from him how to fight the "Great Satan", meaning the US. Bout's arms originate from the former Warsaw Pact states. He bought and buys them at give away prices via his contacts in Ukraine, Moldavia, Belarus and Russia.

Bout in Africa

Bout's main business ventures, however, were the many conflicts in Africa, giving him the name "Africa's Merchant of Death". Misery, hunger, displacement and death for the local population translated into handsome income for Bout. His main African customers in the beginning 90's were Jonas Savimbi in Angola and Charles Taylor in Liberia. Both paid with diamonds. Bout's weapons, sold to Charles Taylor, ended up in the hands of Foday Sankoh's child soldiers in Sierra Leone, who became famous for mass murder, rape and the hacking of limbs of civilians. Their 1998 offensive was named "Operation no Living Thing" (as in, don't leave any).

When the Congo-War started in 1998, he transported Robert Mugabe's troops into Congo, transported weapons to Jean Pierre Bemba and flew soldiers from Rwanda and Uganda into Eastern Congo, thus supplying both sides in the conflict taking with him on his return trips coltan, gold and diamonds. He also supplied the Government of Angola apart from supplying the Angolan rebel group UNITA. Working from both ends to the middle gives extra income.

Bout contracted by the US

The conflicts in Africa, except Eastern Congo, where he is still in business, have largely died down. No problem for Bout, he offered his services to the Pentagon after the Taleban were chased out of Kabul/Afghanistan in 2001. The Clinton Administration in the 90s unsuccessfully tried to put him out of business, but the Bush administration, struck a deal with him: "bring our troops and supplies to Afghanistan and we leave you alone". And Bout kept his promise. His pilots knew each and every airstrip from their previous deliveries and his Russian Antonov and Iljuschin planes were taking off even after a crash landing. This is revealed in a new book by Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun "Merchant of Death Money Guns Planes and the Man, Who Makes War Possible".

The Iraq war offered Bout another business opportunity, he was contracted by the Pentagon and American firms to fly supplies to Baghdad -a plane is a plane-. By the end of 2004 he had done roughly 1000 flights for the Americans to and from Baghdad. At the same time, in 2004, the US government froze all of Bout's bank accounts in the US and banned business with him - who cares.

Bout's latest business

Of late he supplied the Islamic Courts, resident in Somalia's capital Mogadishu until Ethiopian troops drove them out and he flew stockpiles of weapons from Bosnia to Iraq, after having been contracted by the US embassy in Bosnia. He has also been seen with Hezbollah in South Lebanon after the war with Israel last year. Hezbollah needs to rearm, after the stockpiles of weapons, supplied over years by Iran, were largely destroyed by precision strikes of the Israeli airforce last year, as investigative journalist Yossi Melman reported. Bout certainly can help.

May be, he can fulfill one of Al Qaeda's greatest wishes. They want to acquire a dirty atomic weapon, a conventional bomb filled with radioactive material, contaminating a large area after it's detonation. With Bout's excellent contacts in Russia and the large amount of radioactive material moonlighting there, this should pose no problem for him. For Bout only money matters, nothing else.

More Information on International Justice
More Information on Victor Bout
More Information on Rogues Gallery


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