Britain helps to turn logs into Liberian rebel arms


Mark Huband

The Guardian, 25 June, 1991

LIBERIAN rain forest timber worth millions of pounds is being bought from rebel forces by European companies, including several in Britain. A senior Western diplomatic source has confirmed that Charles Taylor’s rebels are using the cash to buy arms.

Documents seen by the Guardian showing Mr Taylor’s accounts to March, reveal that the Liberian rebels earned $3.6 million (£2 million) in a six-month period from timber sales arranged by three companies currently operating in areas of Liberia which are under rebel control.

The money is believed to have been deposited in two accounts at the Banque Internationale du Burkina in the Burkina Faso capital, Ouagadougou, which Mr Taylor visits regularly and where he has a house.

Senior diplomats believe the timber money is directly used to buy arms by Mr Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL); at the same time, donations of weapons are still believed to be coming from Libya – where the NPFL was trained – through Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast.

The Ivory Coast authorities have attempted to stem the arms flow and confiscated at least one shipment earlier this year. Other shipments, one of which eyewitnesses said included heavy field artillery, crossed into Liberia in March.

Regular timber shipments, totalling thousands of tons, have arrived in British and French ports from rebel-held Liberia since last October, the figures show.

Disastrous over-logging in Ghana and the Ivory Coast in recent years has reduced volumes of the most valuable logs in those countries, according to industry sources in Britain, increasing the value of the relatively untouched Liberian forests.

The logs are either shipped directly from the Liberian port of Cape Palmas or taken overland to the Ivory Coast port of San Pedro, where Mr Taylor’s business operations are based. Large shipments have arrived in Hull, though most of the logs have been unloaded in France.

Military sources in Britain claim that former British soldiers are involved in arranging arms-for-logs swaps on behalf of Mr Taylor, though no proof has been revealed.

A deal involving the sale of arms and military equipment worth £18 million to the late Liberian president, Samuel Doe, in return for the right to cut down trees in three forest areas was agreed between Doe and the British arms manufacturer United Scientific Instruments last year.

Despite the then Liberian government’s atrocious human rights record, the Department of Trade and Industry provided an export licence for armoured cars, heavy guns and artillery. The deal eventually fell through because rapidly advancing rebel forces invaded the forest areas designated in the arrangement.

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