UN and Understanding Taylor's Liberia
By Tom Kamara
Jan 2, 2001
The recent UN Panel of Experts Report on Diamonds and Arms in Sierra Leone has fostered some fundamental understanding of the forces enhancing the current wave of destabilization and poverty in West Africa.
The Report paints a gloomy picture of West Africa's future without a concerted global stance against free wheeling criminals roaming the region. But apart from the international criminals such as Lebanese, Ukrainians, Russians, Neo-Nazi South Africans, etc., recruited by Liberia's Charles Taylor to make true his dream of erecting a West African criminal empire, regional neighbors form centers of his coterie using politics as a cover.
Burkina Faso's role in West Africa's death has long been documented, but in the politics of deceit and convenience, few talked about it. So is the case of Cote d'Ivoire. Key Liberian political leaders, although aware of the terror role Abidjan played in the region, did not have the courage to point fingers. Instead, some sought co-option into Abidjan's fold to share the booty. Niger has now joined the list as a key transit point for weapons that produce refugees. So is another country, Togo, ex-chair of the Organization for African Unity. But as demanded by the game in death, political leaders in these countries will deny knowledge of this business of horrors.
Nevertheless, only those unfamiliar with the nature of centralization of power in African states can give such denials credence. It is difficult to believe that weapons can land in an African state without the approval or knowledge of key leaders or bureaucrats. Let us hear from the Panel's report on how the RUF is armed:
"Weapons can be procured directly from producing factories, or from surplus stocks of the armed forces in different countries. It is mainly through arms merchants or brokers that weapons are purchased for use by non-state actors. In the case of the RUF, private brokers and arms merchants are the principal suppliers, but most large arms and ammunition supplies only reach the RUF indirectly, through countries with governments sympathetic to the rebels.
"The Panel has found conclusive evidence of supply lines to the RUF through Burkina Faso, Niger and Liberia. Weapons supplied to these countries by governments or private arms merchants have been diverted for use in the conflict in Sierra Leone. Cote d'Ivoire, under previous administrations, was sympathetic to the Liberian government and, indirectly, to the RUF in Sierra Leone. The Ivorian relationship dates back to the training of RUF and Liberian rebels in Cote d'Ivoire in the early 1990s.
"Typically, the movement of the arms from a supplying country to the RUF will entail several stop-overs and cross-border shipments. This should expose arms dealers, especially those breaking United Nations sanctions, to controls, legal procedures and regulations on the export, import and transit of military equipment. Since weapons have moved into the region and across borders with impunity, it can only be assumed that the parties involved - the brokers and suppliers of arms to the RUF - have obtained cooperation from border and customs inspectors, and licensing government departments in order to circumvent UN sanctions and normal border controls.
"The President of Burkina Faso is a close ally of President Charles Taylor and Burkina Faso has acknowledged the presence of over 400 Burkinabe soldiers in Liberia during the time Taylor was leading his rebellion in 1994 and 1995. Provision was made in the government budget to cover salaries for the services rendered during this period. Burkina Faso has repeatedly denied the involvement of its nationals in supporting the RUF. Eyewitnesses and former RUF combatants, however, confirm the active involvement of Burkinabes with the RUF. A Burkinabe, 'General' Ibrahim Bah (a.k.a. Baldé) - referred to in paragraphs 73-4 - handles much of the financial, diamond and weapons transactions between the RUF, Liberia and Burkina Faso. He shuttles regularly between Monrovia and Ouagadougou. Burkina Faso's involvement in weapons transfers is detailed below.
South Africans Providing Training in Liberia
"Fred Rindel a retired officer of the South African Defence Force and former Defence Attaché to the United States, has played a key role in the training of a Liberian anti-terrorist unit, consisting of Liberian soldiers and groups of foreigners, including citizens of Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Niger and The Gambia... The panel interviewed Mr. Rindel extensively. Rindel was contracted as a security consultant by President Charles Taylor in September 1998, and training started in November 1998. The contract included consultancy services and strategic advice to convert Charles Taylor's former rebel militia into a professional unit. The Anti-Terrorist Unit is used in Liberia to protect government buildings, the Executive Mansion and the international airport, and to provide VIP Security and the protection of foreign embassies. The numbers trained were approximately 1200. Because of negative media attention, Rindel cancelled his contract in Liberia in August 2000.
"In 1998, ECOMOG identified a plane, registration number N71RD, owned by a South African company, Dodson Aviation Maintenance and Spare Parts, as having carried weapons to Robertsfield in September of that year. The plane is a Gulfstream 14-seater business jet that cannot be used for arms transport, but there are other relevant connections. Fred Rindel was the owner of Dodson. The company was closed on 31 December 1998, but during the period under investigation, the plane was leased to, and operated by, Greater Holdings (Liberia) Ltd., a company with gold and diamond concessions in Liberia. The plane was used for the transport of the Greater Holdings' staff to and from Liberia.
"Niko Shefer is a businessman located in South Africa, and was Chairman/CEO of the Greater Diamond Company (Liberia) Ltd, a subsidiary of Greater Holdings. Shefer denies diamond dealings in Liberia and Sierra Leone, except for two exploration agreements with the Liberian government for concessions in Mano and Lower Lofa. When the employees of their diamond operations in Mano came under attack, Shefer discussed security with President Taylor, and suggested bringing in private security specialists from South Africa. This resulted in the security contract with Mr. Rindel. In the end, Shefer's explorations were unprofitable and were abandoned. The American partners in Greater Diamonds were at that time under investigation by American authorities for tax evasion and money laundering, using assets in Liberia. Shefer met with RUF leader Foday Sankoh in South Africa in February 2000.
"Fred Rindel states that he has never had any involvement with diamonds in Liberia and was never approached by anyone in Liberia with regard to diamonds. According to the Liberian Minister of Mines, however, Rindel was involved in a diamond project with the son of President Taylor, Charles Taylor Jr. Rindel includes a reference to De Dekker Diamonds (Pty) Ltd on his business card. Rindel was also contracted as consultant on a mineral and geological survey of the gold potential in the Mano and Nimba areas in Liberia. Geologists from South Africa were hired for the purpose. Rindel acquired the gold and other mineral rights for two concessions on behalf of a Bermuda based company, the Bermuda Holding Corporation, a company in which President Charles Taylor and some of his relatives hold interests. Mr. Rindel was also negotiating with a number of international companies to form joint ventures with the Bermuda corporation.
"Mr. Rindel denies bringing other South Africans to Liberia as trainers. During his time in Liberia, however, there were several other South Africans there, including Meno Uys, Gert Keelder and Faber Oosthuyzen. These men and others worked under contract in Liberia in 1998, 1999 and 2000 as security trainers. Their headquarters is at Gbarnga. Another South African, Karl Alberts, is flying helicopters for the Liberian armed forces. Neither Rindel nor the other South Africans applied for authorisation under the South African Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act (1998), because, in his case, according to Rindel, his services were purely of a protective nature and did not include any combat training, or training of armed forces in Liberia". God Bless Africa!