Bloody trade that fuels Rwanda's war


For once, it appeared a UN arms embargo had worked. A ship, the Malo, carrying 80 tons of weapons bound for troubled Somalia, had been seized by the government of the Seychelles.

It was 1993 and the UN had banned sales of weapons to Somalia as warring clansmen reduced the country to chaos. "In impounding this ship," James Michel, the Seychelles Defence Minister, said, "we did the international community a service." There was no doubt, as the death-toll in Somalia mounted, that a service had been done. Within a year, however, the weapons had been targeted by the unscrupulous operatives of a new arms-procurement network set up to devise ways of circumventing yet another UN embargo - that imposed on sales of arms to Rwanda after the murder of up to a million Tutsis in April and May 1994. Mr Michel and his colleagues did not know it, but they were about to fall victim to Colonel Theoneste Bagosora. Col Bagosora, a former Rwanda government defence official, had become the master arms buyer for the Rwandan government in exile as it regrouped for what, had it happened, would surely have been one of the bloodiest wars in African history. The planned return to Rwanda was codenamed Operation Insecticide by Hutu militias.

Col Bagosora is just one of dozens of businessmen, patriots and mercenaries operating from Kenya, Zaire, South Africa, Israel, Britain, Albania, the former Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, identified by a UN Commission of Inquiry into the extent - and sources - of illicit arms sales to Rwanda.

The deals are many, the methods ingenious, but perhaps the Seychelles sting is the best example of the lengths to which the former Rwandan government would go to re-arm. According to an unpublished UN report on the Commission's work, obtained by the Independent, the deal began with an approach to the Seychelles government by a South African businessman, Willem Ehlers, director of a company called Delta Aero.

Mr Ehlers said he was interested in buying the impounded weapons, including 2,500 AK-47s, 6,000 mortars and 5,600 fragmentation grenades, on behalf of the Zairean government, against whom there is no embargo. On 4 June 1994, he arrived in the Seychelles, accompanied by Col Bagosora who, with the apparent complicity of the Zairean authorities, had a Zairean passport and an end-user certificate bearing the seal of the Republic of Zaire. Two shipments were flown out of the country on 16 and 18 June - more than a month after the UN embargo was imposed - before the Seychelles government became suspicious and stopped a third consignment. Media reports, fuelled in part by the investigative work of the charity Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, had established that the weapons had been diverted to Goma and into the hands of the former government forces. It was a perfect sting; weapons impounded on behalf of the UN were used to circumvent another UN arms embargo. But it was one of many. "Highly reliable sources in Belgium, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania and the United Kingdom painted a coherent picture of huge, loose, overlapping webs of more or less illicit arms deals, arms flights and arms deliveries spanning the continent from South Africa as far as Europe, particularly Eastern Europe," said the UN Commission's report, dated 28 October 1996.

"Those engaged in such activities make free use of fake end-user certificates, exploit loopholes in the law, evade customs and other airport controls by making clandestine night take-offs and landings, file false flight plans and conceal their movements by using fabricated zone permits, evading radar tracking and observing radio silence in flight." It has been suspected for years that a number of Britons or British companies had engineered arms sales to Rwanda up to the UN embargo of 17 May 1994. But last week came proof that at least one, Mil-Tec Corporation Ltd, had continued after it. Papers abandoned by fleeing Hutu militiamen in eastern Zaire showed that the Isle of Man-registered company had sold pounds 3.3m of arms, including consignments delivered in July.

One of the men linked to Mil-Tec, Kumar Anup Vidyarthi, vanished from his home in north London this week. His partner, Kumar Gupta, was traced to Nairobi but he failed to return the Independent's calls. Both men are Kenyan, a fact which, in the procurement maze, is significant. For it was in Nairobi, Kenya, that the plans for a triumphant, if bloody, return were being hatched. Each month, meetings of military officials and wealthy Hutus were held in Nairobi, where money was raised for the planned invasion. It paid for weapons known to have originated from Israel, Albania, Zambia, Ukraine and Spain. Evidence showed a fully armed force, estimated at 50,000 men, was being trained in Zaire.

It is a credit to the Commission that so much information was gleaned. It has become the norm for their requests for information from governments to be ignored. In the three months to September this year, its members travelled across Africa and Europe but, by the end of October, they were still awaiting replies to questions posed of governments in Belgium, Bulgaria, Cameroon, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Italy, Kenya, Malta, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Britain, Zaire and Zambia.

It is emerging that the arms deliveries were not confined to 1994. Two years after the imposition of the embargo, they continued, with evidence of more than 150 tons of weapons entering the country from Zambia in May of this year, and of 60 tons being flown into Zaire aboard two Ukrainian- registered aircraft, and on to the former government forces, in June.

The Commission's latest task is to find out more about a Nigerian-registered aircraft carrying arms from Malta to Goma on 25 May 1994, which, according to documents recently uncovered, included one Col T Bagosora among its few passengers.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power