Press Release / May 4, 2001

Liberian timber profits finance regional conflict

Recent Global Witness investigations have found that two individuals involved in the illicit arms and diamond trade to Sierra Leone, also hold high-ranking positions within the Liberian government body assigned to oversee Liberia’s million dollar timber industry. The link between the Liberian timber industry and the war in Sierra Leone is now plain to see. The United Nations Security Council must urgently reconsider the imposition of a total embargo on Liberian timber exports and immediately implement the diamond embargo.

· Gus Kouwenhoven, identified by the UN Expert Panel Report as “responsible for the logistic aspects of many of the arms deals,” (1) is on the board of directors of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), the Liberian government regulatory body assigned to monitor forest practices and exports.

· Talal El-Ndine, identified by the Expert Panel Report as the individual who personally pays ”Liberians fighting in Sierra Leone alongside the RUF, and those bringing diamonds out of Sierra Leone,” (2) is also on the board of directors of the FDA.

These ties show that it is now probable that profits accrued from the export and sale of Liberian timber are being used to train and arm the notoriously brutal Sierra Leonian rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). These practices can continue because millions of dollars are being made through the international marketing of valuable Liberian timber.

The FDA bi-annual report, covering the period from January to June 2000, showed that China imported 46.4% (worth an estimated 13 million USD) of total Liberian timber exports while France imported 17.9%(3) (worth an estimated 7 million USD). These dramatic figures shed light as to the possible reasons why both countries were the principal objectors to timber sanctions being placed on Liberia in March 2001.

Global Witness research and investigations in French sea ports in late March 2001 show that Liberian timber is flooding into France. “We are concerned over the possibility that the French government is putting commercial interests before the urgency of putting an end to this brutal conflict that has already claimed thousands of lives”, said Alex Yearsley of Global Witness “both France and China now have a responsibility to ensure to the international community that this is not the case.”

Notes to the Editor: 1+2. Report of the Panel of Experts appointed Pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1306 (2000), Paragraph 19 in Relation to Sierra Leone.
3. Liberia exported 13,251,996.47 FOB (USD) to China and 7,385,373.78 FOB (USD) to France. Other countries listed as importing timber from Liberia were: Italy, Korea, Turkey, Greece, Spain, Germany, Indonesia, India, Netherlands, Thailand, Portugal, Tunisia, Holland, Britain, Senegal, Belgium and Ivory Coast.