August 10, 2003
On August 7, 2003, Nigerian peacekeeping troops intercepted and detained a plane carrying over 10 tons of munitions for government forces that were landed at Robertsfield international airport at 2AM. The Boeing 707 plane (with the tail number 9G-LAD) was flown by an Arab crew and apparently owned by Johnsons Air, a Ghana-based company which has links with First International Airlines, a Belgium-based firm. The two firms and the plane in question have been cited in several internet reports for trafficking in arms from the Belgian city of Ostend.
It was in fact the extended stopover in the Burkina Faso capital, caused by bad weather, that caused the president Charles Taylor's delayed return to Monrovia for the August 1 meeting with a top level ECOWAS delegation.
A group of Liberian government soldiers, led by the Defense Minister, went to the airport to meet the flight from Libya. The arms and ammunition were rapidly loaded onto two trucks but once the Nigerian guards figured out what was going on, they ordered the two vehicles to halt. Ignored, they then shot at the tires to force them to a stop. The Liberian Defense Minister was detained for a few hours and later released by the ECOWAS soldiers.
Taylor and his military chief of staff, General Benjamin Yeaten, went personally to the airport to try and secure the release of the cargo, which consisted of ammunition for AK 47 rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, but the Nigerian soldiers refused to hand it over.
This shipment had been purchased overseas by Taylor's son Chucky Taylor, in direct contravention of the UN arms embargo against Liberia. It was originally due to be delivered by ship to the port of Buchanan. When MODEL rebels captured Buchanan on July 28, it was offloaded at an undisclosed foreign port and was flown into Liberia.
A first flight on August 1 consisted mainly of AK-47 and mortar ammunition, which were then used in the fighting for Monrovia the next day. President Taylor had flown to Libya to arrange this shipment. On both legs of the trip, Taylor changed planes in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou. Bad weather delayed Taylor's return, which caused him to cancel an August 1 meeting with West African foreign ministers to discuss peace efforts.
A senior but unnamed Sierra Leonean official familiar with the smuggling network claimed that Burkina Faso was providing the end-user certificates that weapons companies require to ship arms. Weapons purchased from the Ukraine or Bulgaria (or donated by Libya) were repackaged and flown to Liberia, paid for by illegal diamonds.
The Sierra Leone-based Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels ship diamonds, from the mines they control, to Liberia. The diamonds are then either sold or smuggled to Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast or Guinea. From there, they are then sold to legitimate diamond brokers. Liberia's diamond production is estimated to be less than $10 million a year, but they have exported $300 million worth of RUF diamonds a year. This earned the RUF rebels about $30-50 million a year, with as much as $125 million in a good year.
Burkina-Faso has also factored into the Ivory Coast's miserable civil war and according to the Ivorian media, the Burkinabe President's emissary Salif Diallo is actually the shadowy connection to Libya. They accuse him of being in constant contact with Moammar Qaddafi, coordinating arms and diamond trafficking in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Angola with men like Moustapha Chafi, the Niger-Mauritanian who "led" the Ivorian MPCI rebels during the first few months of the group's existence.
All of this leads back to the burning question, "what will Charles Taylor do on August 11th?". Still living under the cloud of charges from Sierra Leone, he may head to Nigeria or might even hide out with his arms smuggling friends. But Taylor's attempt to bring in more arms as he was on the verge of stepping down as president could be taken as a final attempt to put his supporters in a better position, since the hope of the government militias actually winning is beyond remote. - Adam Geibel