Global Policy Forum

US Urges UN to Ban Liberian

January 18, 2001

The United States formally introduced a U.N. resolution on Thursday calling for a global embargo on Liberia's diamond and timber exports, a flight and travel ban, and other sanctions intended to stop its gems-for-guns trade with Sierra Leone rebels.

The draft document is to be discussed among small groups of Security Council experts next week, but no date has been set for a vote. Several African countries have already voiced opposition to the resolution following lobbying by Liberia, diplomats said.

The United States based its resolution on a damning U.N. report last month that accused Liberian President Charles Taylor of obtaining diamonds from and selling arms to Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front rebels, who have maimed, raped or killed thousands, even young children.

The draft says there was "unequivocal and overwhelming evidence" in the panel's report that Liberia was "actively supporting the RUF at all levels," including providing training, weapons, logistical support and a safe haven for fighters.

Despite a mid-1999 peace agreement, the rebels took 500 U.N. peacekeepers hostage last May and have not permitted the government or U.N. troops to go near the diamond mining areas they controlled throughout nine years of civil war in the West African country.

The U.S. resolution, strongly backed by Britain, calls for all nations to "prohibit the direct or indirect import of all rough diamonds from Liberia to or through its territory." It would impose a flight ban on Liberian-registered aircraft and broaden an arms embargo that has been in existence since 1992. It also calls for a travel ban on senior Liberian officials and military commanders and adult family members, which presumably includes Taylor himself. The draft resolution bans timber exports, whether "rough or whether or not stripped of bark or sapwood or roughly squared." The independent panel's December report alleged that officials in that industry were involved in illicit weapons activities on behalf of the RUF.

The embargoes would stay in place until Secretary-General Kofi Annan reported that Liberia was no longer involved in illicit trade in diamonds and arms. France, however, is expected to push for a so-called sunset clause on the sanctions.

The Security Council has already prohibited diamond exports from Sierra Leone that are not certified by the government. But diplomats say that until there is a proper worldwide certification system and tighter controls in diamond-cutting centers, some smuggling will continue.

The flight ban was prompted, in part, by the role of Victor Bout, a native of Tajikistan. He runs helicopters and aircraft through shadow companies based in the United Arab Emirates and Dubai, some of them registered in Liberia, delivering weapons to the RUF and to Angola's UNITA rebels, U.N. reports say.

The link between Taylor and RUF leader Foday Sankoh, now in jail, goes back 10 years, when they trained in Libya. Sankoh helped Taylor seize power, and they both helped Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore do the same, the report said.

Appealing to African ambassadors on Wednesday for support, U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke said that the insurgency in Sierra Leone, which he described as one of the world's most "repugnant," was backed "by a once proud and law-abiding member of the international community." "We're distressed that the present government (in Liberia) has abandoned these ideals. And we're distressed but we see no alternative but to put more pressure on the leadership which, like Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia, has been the primary cause of this issue," he said during a speech on Africa.

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


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