Global Policy Forum

UN Confirms Liberia's Role


By Barbara Crossette

New York Times
December 20, 2000

A panel of international experts is expected to tell the Security Council in a report on Wednesday that Liberia and its president, Charles Taylor, have been playing the largest role in the smuggling of diamonds from Sierra Leone. The diamond sales have paid for a guerrilla war there.

The report, circulated today among diplomats, seems to confirm what other reports have said about Mr. Taylor's role. It recommends that the Council embargo all diamonds from Liberia until it can prove that it is not trafficking in gems from Sierra Leone or arming the insurgents there with the proceeds of illegal sales. The report further suggests that a travel ban similar to one imposed on senior Liberian officials by the United States should be applied by all nations.

"President Charles Taylor is actively involved in fueling the violence in Sierra Leone, and many businessmen close to his inner circle operate on an international scale, sourcing their weaponry mainly in eastern Europe," the report said. Mr. Taylor has been the major supporter of the Revolutionary United Front, a rebel army in Sierra Leone that is known for amputating limbs to terrorize civilians.

The panel said there is "unequivocal and overwhelming evidence that Liberia has been actively supporting the R.U.F. at all levels, in providing training, weapons and related matériel, logistical support, a staging ground for attacks and a safe haven for retreat and recuperation, and for public relations activities."

In addition to Liberia, Burkina Faso was cited as being actively involved in the illegal diamonds-for- arms trade. Seven other countries were recommended for a watch list: Uganda, the Central African Republic, Ghana, Namibia, the Republic of Congo, Mali and Zambia. "Invoices from these countries need to be thoroughly checked," the report says.

Sierra Leone now has a diamond certification system approved by the United Nations, and the panel said it works for diamonds that "enter the formal system." But not all diamonds come from government-controlled areas and not all traders can be assumed to be dealing with legitimate stones, the panel found.

The panel also found that several Liberian-registered planes that seemed to be outside the formal control of the Liberian government are being used by arms dealers. It recommended that planes bearing Liberian registration be grounded wherever they are found unless they can provide correct documentation and meet other requirements. Arms dealers from Africa and the Middle East are using Liberian registration to ship illicit goods, the report says. Among dealers the panel cited are Sanjivan Ruprah of Kenya and Victor Bout, who is said to operate from Sharja in the United Arab Emirates.

Another businessman described as close to Mr. Taylor is Talal el-Ndine, whom the panel describes as a wealthy Lebanese who acts as paymaster for the Revolutionary United Front.

The panel also looked at efforts by Foday Sankoh, the rebel group's leader, to get into the diamond business when he became part of the Sierra Leone government in 1999 after a peace agreement. Mr. Sankoh is now in jail after turning against the government and after his forces attacked United Nations peacekeepers last May. But he was chairman of the commission for the management of strategic mineral resources in a short- lived power-sharing agreement that was intended to rehabilitate the rebels. In that capacity, he and Sierra Leone's president, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, persuaded the United States to help pay for a conference in March of this year to which American diamond-mining investors were invited.

Among those sending a representative was Lazare Kaplan International, whose chairman is Maurice Tempelsman, who had been involved in diamond mining in Sierra Leone decades ago but who had pulled out as the country sank into chaos. Officials at Lazare Kaplan International say they attended the meeting at the urging of the United States Agency for International Development, but came away seeing no future in returning to Sierra Leone. Shortly afterward, Mr. Sankoh was again in armed opposition and the plan to redevelop a legitimate diamond mining industry was scuttled.

The panel that wrote the study was led by Martin Chungong Ayafor of Cameroon. The members were Atabou Bodian of Senegal, an expert from the International Civil Aviation Organization; Johan Peleman, a Belgian arms and transportation expert; Harjit S. Sandhu an Indian agent from Interpol, and Ian Smillie, a diamond expert from Canada.

More Information on Diamonds in Conflict
More Information on Sierra Leone and Liberia
More Information on Sanctions


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