Bulgaria has been singled out as the main source of arms that have fueled the ongoing rebellion by UNITA forces in Angola, in strict violation of United Nations sanctions. Bulgaria now faces possible sanctions and a threat to its aspirations to join the European Union and NATO. But Bulgaria's chief envoy says the new report alleging the violations is unfounded. UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.
United Nations, 16 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The report discussed yesterday by the Security Council details widespread violations of the 1993 UN ban on arms and fuel sales to Angolan rebels.
It said the rebels bought weapons from Eastern Europe, primarily Bulgaria, and had them shipped via African countries in exchange for diamonds. The panel which prepared the report said evidence it collected over the past six months overwhelmingly pointed to Bulgaria as the source for most of the arms purchased by UNITA, at least since 1997.
The report said that Bulgaria allowed false end-user certificates from Zambia to be used to allow military ammunition to be delivered from Bulgaria to UNITA.
The report also said there was evidence that some UNITA personnel had trained in Bulgaria on the use of some of the weapons systems that UNITA was importing. It said the trainees went under the guise of Zairians.
The panel's chairman, Ambassador Anders Moellander of Sweden, told reporters yesterday that it did not appear that anyone was directing this trade in Bulgaria. But he said that Bulgaria had been "used" by arms dealers and was now cooperating with the panel to tighten controls on such arms exports.
"They are eager as aspirant members of international organizations such as the regional ones to follow the rules that are followed by these organizations. They are sharpening their controls internally themselves and are starting to collaborate with us."
But Moellander told our correspondent in a separate interview that Bulgaria faces serious obstacles to EU membership because of its link to sanctions violations. He said that when Sweden takes over the presidency of the EU next year it will be examining Bulgaria's role in the sanctions violations closely.
Bulgaria's chief envoy to the UN, Vladimir Sotirov, told the council yesterday that the panel's findings had no basis.
"I categorically reject as absolutely unfounded and unacceptable any accusations raised or presumed in the report of the expert panel of possible violations by my country of the Security Council sanctions against UNITA."
Sotirov said his government was troubled by the conclusions of the report, saying it had cooperated fully with the panel experts and proved Sofia's adherence to sanctions controls. He said Bulgaria advised the panel of arms sales to Togo, which were not forbidden under the sanctions regime.
And Sotirov said Bulgarian officials had proven that Sofia did not allow arms sales to proceed after fraudulent end-user certificates purporting to come from Zambia had been discovered.
The Bulgarian envoy said other countries which did not participate as fully with UN investigators were not being pursued as aggressively as Bulgaria was. He did not name these countries, but the report mentions that the panel was waiting for substantive replies from Russia and Belarus on the question of arms sales and training assistance to rebels.
"It is our full conviction that the states that extend their full support and assistance to control and monitoring bodies should not be punished by the distortion and misinterpretation of the information they submit to the experts, whatever the reasons for such kind of handling (of) the facts are."
The Security Council nations will now take up the issue over the next two weeks. Among the items that will come up for discussion again are the 39 recommendations made in the report. They focus on ways to curb weapons and military assistance. One of the recommendations says that UN sanctions regimes should be among the criteria considered by NATO and the European Union when evaluating candidates for new membership.
Canadian Ambassador Robert Fowler, who directed the panel's work, said he hoped to have a Security Council resolution on the issue next month.
Fowler told reporters that the panel's report on these sanctions violations was the most thorough ever attempted. He said the panel was given special powers and resources because of the seriousness of the Angolan civil war. In addition to being a destabilizing factor for southern and Central Africa, Fowler says the war has torn apart Angola. Citing the casualty toll, Fowler noted UN figures of nearly one million deaths and more than three million internally displaced people.
"There is nobody, no family, no village no part of Angola that has been untouched and is not still threatened by the war."
Security Council representatives generally welcomed the report. But France's deputy UN ambassador, Yves Doutriaux, also said it would require careful scrutiny because of the seriousness of the charges. In particular, he questioned the panel's sourcing techniques, the omission of dates of alleged violations, and the need to include the formal explanations of the government's answering of the charges.