Press Release / May 3, 2002

Liberia’s Logs of War a Key Actor in Illegal Arms Trafficking and Human Rights Abuses.

Global Witness today released a briefing document “Liberia’s Logs of War: Underpinning Conflict”. The document highlights the threat to the Sierra Leone’s nascent peace process, brought about after the United Nations second most expensive intervention in its history, and details the continued links between Liberia’s timber industry and conflict in the region. The report cites new evidence of ties between the industry and illicit arms trading, conflict and human rights abuses and calls for an immediate embargo on Liberia’s timber.

The timber industry continues to be a vital source of funding for Liberia’s illegal arms shipments, with logging companies themselves serving as arms importers and weapons transporters. The private logging company militias fight alongside the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) and the notorious Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU) in their battles with the rebel group Liberians United For the Return of Democracy (LURD). The presence of several of these logging companies, and their close ties to international diamond and arms traffickers , is a serious threat to the peace and security of the region.

Information obtained by Global Witness includes details of at least two shipments of arms imports in January 2002, and the involvement of OTC personnel in delivering arms to government forces and their militias fighting in Gbarpolu county in lower Lofa. Furthermore, logging company militiamen perpetuate a reign of terror on ordinary people. Personnel of the OTC militia harass and intimidate civilians as well as illegally arrest and detain those they consider a threat to their interests. The Liberian government has now converted most of the OTC and other logging companies’ militias into its own militia force under the command of General Cocoo Dennis, an executive of the Salami Molawi Incorporated logging company (now known as the Mohammed Group of Companies ) and General Roland Duo, OTC chief of security. (1)

Thus far the United Nations have taken no actions on Liberia in order to address the problem of Liberia’s timber industry; the current situation means that any delays in action will further hamper prospects for peace in one of the most violent regions in the world. “Regional peace cannot be achieved without halting illicit arms trade which is largely dependant on the timber trade – a trade that is also actively involved in grave human-rights abuses and which deprives the Liberian people of massive state revenues,” said Alice Blondel of Global Witness. “It is time for the International Community to stop stalling and take action. Failure to do so will undermine any peace that currently exists in the region”.

Notes to the Editor:

1. The MGC is owned by Mohammed Salami, named last year in the UN Expert Panel Report as one of the facilitators of arms transfer to Liberia