11 December 2013

Liberia: GOL Officials in Secret Firearm Deals

Details emerging from the latest UN Panel of Experts report on Liberia have unveiled some chilling and staggering information as to how government officials and or political appointees are secretly acquiring firearms.

The UN Panelists appointed to monitor the arms embargo and other military related activities here in pursuant to UN resolution 2079 (2012), said most of the firearms were either purchased from returning mercenaries from the Ivory Coast or through other means, while alarming that this could pose a future security risks.

The Panelists in their report to the UN Security Council said they obtained multiple confessions from mercenaries who alleged that they sold pistols to individual government officials.

The UN Panel also said between 2010 and 2012, a small number of handguns were smuggled from the United States to Liberia ostensibly to supply officials of the Liberian Government. The panelists were clear in their conclusion that most of the officials involve in the firearms purchase do so illegally.

The UN Panel: "... the Government of Liberia has at times purchased weapons from Liberian mercenaries in the Liberia-Côte D'Ivoire border region, ostensibly to reduce the number of illicit weapons available for potential cross-border attacks. This occurred in June and July 2012, following the attacks in Sao and Para in Côte D'Ivoire. The weapons obtained by the Government of Liberia were not handed over to UNMIL for destruction as required, nor to the forensic unit of the Liberia National Police for further investigation."

"It is likely, instead, that these weapons remain in the possession of the Government of Liberia officials," the UN Panel said, adding "This could lead to security risks in the future, as the officials who obtained the weapons have probably not been vetted to carry official government firearms.

Excerpts of the report:

The Panel received additional information concerning two such cases in 2013. A Liberian mercenary general sold a rocket-propelled grenade to an official of the Government of Liberia in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County, in March 2013, who subsequently allowed the Panel to photograph the weapon. The mercenary general had helped to organize the August 2012 Péhékanhouébli attack and had been recruited for, but did not participate in, the March 2013 Tiobly attack.

He informed the Panel in March 2013 that the weapon was brought into Liberia in March 2011, as he retreated from Moyen-Cavally, Côte D'Ivoire. The Panel was further informed by two other mercenary sources in September 2013 that they had sold two pistols to officials of the Government of Liberia in Monrovia in April 2013. Those weapons too had been brought into Liberia when the mercenaries retreated from Côte D'Ivoire early in 2011. The pistols have not been turned over to UNMIL for destruction.

The Panel also received information concerning the smuggling of a small number of handguns from the United States to Liberia between 2010 and 2012, which, according to diplomatic and United Nations sources, was undertaken to supply these weapons to officials of the Government of Liberia.

The District Court in Minnesota, United States, convicted McHarding Degan Galimah in February 2013 for smuggling firearms from the United States to Liberia. According to the case, Galimah, a Liberian immigrant residing in Minnesota, purchased pistols at gun shows in the United States and sent 12 of these weapons illegally to Monrovia packed in cargo containers on three separate occasions between November 2010 and April 2012.

The Liberia National Police raided the residences and garage of one of Galimah's accomplices, a Liberian named Bernard Cooper, following receipt of information that he had illegally brought weapons into Liberia from the United States in a container early in 2013.

No weapons were found in his possession during the raid on 28 May 2013, although 18 9-mm magazines, 50 12-gauge rounds and 1 pistol holster were seized. Cooper allegedly informed investigators that he had brought handguns into Liberia with the assistance of two senior members of the National Police.

One of the Police officers informed the Panel that he was a friend of Cooper and had previously assisted Cooper in clearing through Liberian custom vehicles that Cooper had sent from the United States but denied involvement in the illicit importation of weapons. The Panel sought additional information from the National Police regarding the case, including clarification of the allegation that senior Police officers were involved, but the Police official handling the case did not respond to the Panel's multiple requests for a meeting.

The Panel notes that in its firearms inspection report of 30 November 2012 concerning the Police Support Unit the United Nations Police cited several problematic areas, including difficulties in accounting for ammunition in the armory of the Unit and the substantial number of pistols that had been issued to former leaders of the Liberia National Police or to officers who were not trained and authorized to use firearms.

According to the United Nations Police, the problem of current and former national Police authorities using Unit weapons in breach of the National Police's firearms policy had been reduced early in 2013 but remained a serious concern. The Panel's sources believed that tighter controls over Unit weapons, which had been distributed openly to the Liberia National Police leadership, including two political appointees, had further enhanced a demand for weapons trafficked into Liberia illicitly.

The Panel remains concerned that limited stocks of weapons maintained by Liberian mercenaries and Ivorian militia in the Liberia-Côte D'Ivoire border region could be used to initiate cross-border attacks in the future. Information regarding the locations and sizes of these stocks remains incomplete owing to the remoteness of the locations in which the stocks are hidden and the highly secretive nature of the groups with access to these weapons.

Two Liberian mercenaries informed the Panel that near Tiens Town, Grand Gedeh County, the mercenary general Solomon Jolopo maintains a cache of approximately 14 weapons, which are the remnants of stocks taken by the mercenary brigade from Côte divorce in 2011.

The Panel also received additional information from Liberian mercenaries concerning individuals who maintain weapons near Zia Town, Grand Gedeh County, including the son of Nyezee Barway1 and an Ivorian militia member who served as an aide-de-camp for Jean Oulai Delafosse, the former sous-préfet militaire of Toulepleu .

The weapons maintained by these two individuals reportedly include several that were stolen by attackers from UNOCI peacekeepers on 8 June 2012. On the basis of its previous investigations, the Panel notes that weapons held by Liberian mercenaries and Ivorian militia are probably distributed in small numbers in remote locations to loyal commanders and that such weapons, as well as small quantities of ammunition, are combined prior to cross-border attacks.

Capacity of the Government of Liberia to prevent arms trafficking

The proposed national firearms control act was withdrawn from the legislature to be amended in February 2013 but has yet to be resubmitted to the legislature for approval. The failure of the Government of Liberia to pass the act inhibits the establishment of adequate judicial regulations pertaining to the trafficking in and possession of firearms that could be used by the Ministry of Justice to prosecute such cases. Serious questions remain concerning the current legal governance of the importation and possession of firearms.

The Liberian National Commission on Small Arms has been operating with a Commissioner since September 2013. The Commission is mandated to maintain a centralized database of registered weapons and oversee the marking of weapons in accordance with Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) standards.

The Liberia National Police, on the other hand, is tasked with licensing firearms and investigating illicit arms trafficking. Liberia National Police offices in the counties, however, remain inadequately staffed and often cannot provide Monrovia with even basic crime data from their areas of operation. Other State security agencies are too weak to monitor and investigate information from areas of concern in the border regions.

Moreover, the Panel has observed, on numerous occasions, a lack of information-sharing between Liberian security agencies -- even those working within the same ministry -- owing, in part, to corruption and competing alliances within the Government.

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