Press Release / Jan. 17, 2001

Global Witness calls on UN Security Council to embargo Liberian "Logs of war"

A briefing document released today by British environmental and human rights GROUP Global Witness calls for a United Nations Security Council embargo on Liberian timber exports, transportation and imports by third countries. Both Global Witness' own research, and the December 2000 report of the UN Panel of Experts have exposed that the major players in Liberiaís timber industry are involved in grand corruption, and in the arms trade with the RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. The UN Report focuses on Liberiaís role in fuelling the war in Sierra Leone through the trade in weapons, diamonds and timber.

'Taylor's logging revenue is an important means to provide continued support to the RUF. Paragraph 49 of the UN report recommends an embargo on Liberian timber. To prevent timber companies' involvement in the arms trade, and to prevent the destruction of a resource that Liberia will need in the future, the UN Security Council must enact this recommendationî, said Alex Yearsley of Global Witness.

President Charles Taylor has handed over a massive 1.44 million hectare concession to the Oriental Timber Company (OTC), headed by Dutch National Gus van Kouwenhoven, a long time associate of Taylor's and owner of a hotel and casino in Monrovia. According to the UN report "Van Kouwenhoven is responsible for the logistical aspects of many of the arms deals. Through his interests in a Malaysian timber project in Liberia, he organises the transfer of weaponry FROM Monrovia INTO Sierra Leone. Roads built and maintained for timber extraction are also conveniently used for weapons movement within Liberia, and for the onward shipment of weapons to Sierra Leone'.

Taylor has given OTC a virtual monopoly over the countryís transport, enabling them to import weapons INTO Buchanan port and transport them to Sierra Leone along their logging roads. It is believed that OTC's revenue directly benefits Taylor, including an initial $5 million sweetener, and funds his personal security forces. It has been repeatedly mentioned that that timber revenue is potentially more important to Taylor than diamonds.

'This shows a direct link between the timber trade and the continuing devastating conflict in Sierra Leone, a conflict that has now spread to Guinea,' said Yearsley 'the UN should take immediate action on Liberian timber in ORDER to help cut off funding and support to the RUF and to ensure that the other Liberian embargoes on arms and diamonds being discussed today by the UN Security Council have the chance to be fully effective.'