Sandline: 'We didn't breach embargo'

The Sierra Leone affair: was there a legal loophole?
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A SHIPMENT of weapons to the exiled president of Sierra Leone did not breach UN sanctions, the firm of mercenaries at the centre of the affair claimed yesterday.

Sandline International, which is under investigation by Customs and Excise, claimed its support for Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was perfectly legal.

Only the military junta which overthrew the country's elected government in May 1997, was blocked by a UN resolution, it said.

The company produced extracts from the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) in Edinburgh last September, from a Foreign Office bulletin in January and from a Parliamentary speech by the Foreign Office minister Tony Lloyd, saying all three showed the UN did not wish sanctions to refer to President Kabbah.

The company said all three documents indicated the clear understanding of the United Nations' position was that sanctions referred to the military junta and not the democratically elected government.

But UN sources said that while Sandline might be able to argue its case in court if necessary, Resolution 1132 did not mention either side specifically. It simply demanded that all states prevent their companies and nationals from supplying arms to Sierra Leone.

Although simultaneous embargoes on fuel and on travel by the junta were hedged with possible exceptions, the arms ban was not.

Sandline quotes a CHOGM communique as saying: "Heads of government welcomed UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1132 imposing petroleum, weapons and travel sanctions on the military junta in Sierra Leone."

The Foreign Office daily bulletin on January 9 said: "Britain has taken a leading role in the international community's efforts... contributing to the drafting of UNSCR 1132, which imposed sanctions against the junta."

Speaking in the House of Commons on 12 March, Mr Lloyd said Britain was instrumental in drawing up the resolution "which imposed sanctions on the military junta".

The resolution supported a peace agreement which was meant to allow a return to constitutional rule through peaceful means, and expressed grave concern at the continued violence and loss of life following the coup.

It also added that the situation in Sierra Leone posed a threat to international peace and security in the region.

It said: "All states shall prevent the sale or supply to Sierra Leone by their nationals or from their territories or using their flag vessels or aircraft, of petroleum and petroleum products and arms and related materiel of all types, including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment and spare... whether or not originating in their territory."

The October 1997 resolution also prevented travel by members of the military junta and their families, though this could be authorised by a special committee set up to oversee its implementation.

The import of fuel could also be approved by the committee.

It added that all states should "act in strict conformity" with the resolution, regardless of any contracts or licences entered into before its enactment".