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Rise in weapons-related crime worries UN panel investigating Liberia sanctions

Rise in weapons-related crime worries UN panel investigating Liberia sanctions

A group of United Nations experts said that while it has found no evidence of arms flows across Liberia’s borders, the dramatic increase in armed robberies involving firearms is a cause for concern and merits the attention of the Security Council committee monitoring the arms embargo imposed on the West African nation.

Armed robbery rates for the capital, Monrovia, have increased significantly compared to 2006, with firearms involved in about a third of cases, according to the panel of experts established by the Council.

“This worrisome development has raised the profile of the debate over rearming Liberia’s security services and has highlighted some of the challenges confronting the establishment of sustainable rule of law,” the group states in a new report.

It recommends that the Council’s “1521 Committee,” which monitors the Liberia sanctions regime, carefully review the status of past exceptions to the arms embargo and inventories of weapons already transferred to the country before approving any further transfers of military material to Liberian security services.

The Committee should also request that the Liberian Government step up its inspection of approved shipments and to consider using international and regional standards for the marking of all weapons, the group adds.

The panel of experts was appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in July to renew investigations of whether UN sanctions against Liberia are being broken, after learning of allegations that former president Charles Taylor may still have access to considerable wealth.

In what the panel refers to as a “significant milestone in its work,” the experts were invited by Nigeria to visit the country to investigate the allegations. The Nigerian authorities informed them that they were unable to find conclusive evidence of any funds, economic assets or investments made by Mr. Taylor in Nigeria. Since the panel has not yet received copies of the Government’s reports, it cannot confirm these findings.

The panel is also tasked with assessing the implementation of forestry legislation signed into law last October by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and with gauging the Government’s compliance with the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, a mechanism established to keep “blood diamonds” from reaching world markets.

While there was no confirmed case of diamond smuggling into Liberia, the panel states that the Government should ensure that Ivorian diamonds do not pass through its porous borders and enter its legitimate trade, adding that “there is a need for heightened sensitivity to potential shifts in trade flows.”

Commending the Government for its progress in this area, the panel urges that it ensure its internal controls are effectively implemented. Doing so will require strong leadership and effective management of human, financial and material resources, the panel states.

In the area of forestry, the group says the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) continues to move forward in the right direction although progress is sometimes slow, noting that planning and management of fiscal resources remain “significant challenges.”

The Council lifted its ban on Liberian timber in June 2006 in recognition of Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf’s efforts in managing the nation’s forests. The FDA is tasked with developing a forest policy and a national forest management strategy, among other matters.