Press Release / March 31, 2003

West African arms trafficking and mercenary activities supported by the Liberian government and logging companies

A new Global Witness report launched today exposes the Liberian government’s violent destabilisation of West Africa, through its support of mercenaries in Cote d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone and through its regular import of weapons in violation of UN sanctions. The report, titled, ‘The Usual Suspects: Liberia’s Weapons and Mercenaries in Cote d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone’, outlines the threat posed by Liberia to international peace and security. It details the Liberian government’s backing of the MPIGO1 and MJP2 rebel groups in Cote d’Ivoire and its planned use of mercenaries to destabilise Sierra Leone. Global Witness calls upon the UN Security Council to take quick and decisive action, by passing a new Resolution recognising Liberia’s realised threat to international security, renewing the current sanctions regime and extending sanctions to cover the Liberian timber industry, which continues to be the Liberian government’s primary source of financial and logistical access to international markets for weapons and mercenaries.

“We have uncovered information showing the Liberian government is still actively involved in the illegal arms trade, and is the driving force behind the training, arming and deployment of the Ivorian rebel groups MPIGO and MJP, with Liberian President Charles Taylor calling the shots from Monrovia,” says Alice Blondel, Global Witness Campaigner. “The ‘usual suspects’, including President Charles Taylor and former RUF commander Sam ‘Maskita’ Bockarie, who have been involved in previous regional insecurities, are now involved in the Cote d’Ivoire crisis and are planning to undermine the fragile peace in Sierra Leone”.

The new report details the individuals, companies and armed groups behind the Liberian government’s activities in the region, as well as exposing the dates, locations and logistics of Liberia’s illegal arms imports and movements of mercenary forces. Chief among Global Witness’s findings are:

· Arms continue to flow into Liberia on a regular basis, with shipment arriving every two to three weeks from Eastern Europe, usually transiting through Nigeria and Libya. The majority of shipments arrive by sea into Buchanan and Harper ports, which are controlled by the Oriental Timber Company (OTC) and Maryland Wood Processing Industries (MWPI), respectively. The report underlines the extent to which the Liberian government’s import of weapons is dependent upon the logging industry, from the brokering and financing of arms deals to the off-loading and transhipment of weapons upon their entry into Liberia.

· The Liberian government created and controls the MPIGO and MJP rebel groups in Cote d’Ivoire, which are comprised mainly of Liberian and Sierra Leonean mercenaries. The fighters were organised in Liberia before deployment into Cote d’Ivoire, and are commanded by close associates of President Charles Taylor.

· The Liberian government is currently implementing a destabilisation strategy in Sierra Leone, in order to disrupt the operations of the Special Court, by which President Charles Taylor and other key figures in Liberia expect to be indicted for war crimes committed during Sierra Leone’s civil war.

· The Liberian timber industry continues to provide the Liberian government with the means necessary to maintain its supplies of illegal arms and fighting forces. MWPI, which oversees weapons imports, also stores arms at its headquarters in Harper for Liberian government forces and transports them to its bush camp near the Ivorian border for use by MPIGO and MJP. OTC continues to be active in organising weapons shipments, and has created a 2,500-strong militia force for use by the Liberian government.

· Swiss and Burkinabé banks are being used to hide funds embezzled by President Charles Taylor, who has at least one account in Burkina Faso established under his alias, Jean Pierre Somé. Liberian assets in Swiss banks are greater than either Nigeria or South Africa, totalling at least US$3.8 billion3.

Despite the fact that the UN has recognised the danger posed by misappropriated timber revenue4 and has linked logging companies to illegal arms imports and support for rebel groups in the past5, the Security Council has yet to take decisive action and impose sanctions against the Liberian timber industry. “The logging industry and international networks of illegal weapons dealers and mercenaries are currently inseparable in Liberia. Unless the Liberian government’s access to these resources is stemmed, the instability caused by arms trafficking and Liberian-backed mercenaries in Cote d’Ivoire will continue and the threat of Liberian mercenary activities in Sierra Leone may soon be realised, bringing into doubt any future peace in the region.”


Notes for the Editor:
1 Popular Movement of the Ivorian Great West.
2 Movement for Justice and Peace.
3 ‘Where has all your money gone? A fact sheet on Swiss banks and tax evasion’, Berne Declaration, 26 June 2002.
4 Resolution 1408 (2002) Adopted by the Security Council at its 4526th meeting, on 6 May 2002
5 Report of the Panel of Experts appointed pursuant to Security Council resolution 1306 (2000), paragraph 19, in relation to Sierra Leone (December 2000).

See also Global Witness’s previous reports on Liberia: ‘Logging Off: How the Liberian Timber Industry Fuels Liberia’s Humanitarian Disaster and Threatens Sierra Leone’ (September 2002); and ‘Taylor-made: The Pivotal Role of Liberia’s Forests and Flag of Convenience in Regional Conflict’ (September 2001).

For any questions, please contact Alice Blondel at +44 (0)7968-160-377.