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East: Tighter Control Over Arms Sales To Africa Urged

  • Robert McMahon

Arms from Eastern Europe continue to play a role in fueling conflict in several West African countries. A UN Security Council expert panel has presented a new report on violations of arms sanctions against rebels in Sierra Leone and recommends ways of controlling shipments from Eastern Europe. UN Correspondent Robert McMahon looks at the council's debate on the latest UN study of arms sanctions violations.

United Nations, 26 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The UN Security Council has begun public discussion over an expert panel's report on widespread violations of arms and diamonds sanctions against rebels in Sierra Leone.

The report was released to the media more than a month ago but at the request of Ukraine, a non-permanent member of the council, its public review by the council was delayed.

Ukraine was not accused of any blatant violations of the sanctions, but the panel found Ukraine lacked restraint and diligence in signing arms deals in West Africa.

The report referred to a shipment of 68 tons of weapons to Burkina Faso from the Ukrainian state-owned company Ukrspetsexport in March 1999. It says that Ukrainian authorities received legitimate end-user certificates from the Burkina Faso Defense Ministry before sending the shipment. But afterward, a complex series of deals brought the weapons to rebels of the Revolutionary United Front, known as RUF, in Sierra Leone.

At yesterday's Security Council session, Ukraine's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Valeri Kuchynski, said his country had acted responsibly in the March 1999 transaction:

"The results of the investigation undertaken by the competent authorities of Ukraine proved beyond any doubt that the above delivery was made in full compliance with the legislation of Ukraine and the relevant requirements of the Security Council resolutions."

Kuchynski said Ukraine has also requested further information from the UN expert group about Ukrainian mercenaries who have allegedly trained RUF rebels in Liberia. He said mercenary activities are prohibited under Ukrainian law and violators would be prosecuted.

The Ukrainian representative also said Ukraine has contributed more than 500 peacekeepers to the UN mission in Sierra Leone as a sign of its commitment to the stabilization of the country.

But the UN expert panel's report repeatedly says that arms-producing countries must show greater discretion in trading weapons to West Africa. The report says that an embargo on weapons exports from some Eastern European countries should be considered until internationally acceptable certification schemes have been developed.

Yesterday's council meeting did not focus on the supply of weapons. It was dominated by a proposal from the United States and Britain to impose sanctions against the leaders of Liberia, Sierra Leone's neighbor, for what they said was actively violating the sanctions for their own profit.

But Britain's deputy ambassador, Stewart Eldon, appealed to arms exporters to be more diligent when dealing with Africa:

"The United Kingdom urges all member states exporting arms to make thorough checks on the proposed end use of arms exports at the time of licensing. These checks should include querying suspect end-use certificates with the countries concerned and circulating details of false end-user certificates to other countries for information."

Eldon and France's ambassador, Jean-David Levitte, also called on UN member states to make sure that war profiteers do not operate on their territory.

Both ambassadors condemned Victor Bout, a Tajik-born businessman, whom the UN panel says operates a fleet of planes engaged in shipping illegal arms to Africa. He lives in the United Arab Emirates.

Levitte said Bout has been particularly active in supporting the destructive activities of rebel groups under UN sanctions in Sierra Leone and Angola:

"It is now time for the international community to act as one to put an end to this type of wrongdoing. All countries must cooperate to this end."

The Security Council now must decide what sort of measures it plans to pursue against sanctions violators or whether to continue with investigations of wrongdoing. The council earlier in the week extended by three months the work of a similar panel investigating violations of sanctions in Angola.

That panel has traced arms from Bulgaria, Romania, and Ukraine to UNITA rebels in Angola and also found these countries sold weapons after receiving what they believed were authentic end-user certifications from African countries.

The Security Council member who chairs the Sierra Leone sanctions committee, Bangladeshi Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, yesterday urged the council to act on the panel's findings. He said it is important to remember what the ongoing conflict in Sierra Leone has cost the people there:

"Tens of thousands of Sierra Leonians have lost their lives. Half a million have become refugees. And three or four times that number have been displaced. As we meet today, much of Sierra Leone remains in rebel hands and people there live without access to basic amenities of life."

Another recommendation heard repeatedly yesterday was that the UN Secretariat form a permanent body assigned to reviewing sanctions regimes worldwide. A number of ambassadors said this would remove the need for temporary expert groups to study individual sanctions cases and regularly review the effectiveness of sanctions.