Letter: Cook's poor judgement

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Sir: In your otherwise excellent coverage of the Sierra Leone arms sales by Sandline you accept two highly doubtful assumptions: that the UN embargo did apply to arms to the recognised government and to Ecomog (the military arm of the Economic Community of West African States - Ecowas); and that the joint action of the Sierra Leone national guard (Kamajors) and the Ecomog forces to drive out the junta of army mutineers and the Revolutionary United Front was somehow illegal.

The embargo was adopted on the initiative of the government of Sierra Leone and the Ecowas states and charges Ecomog and President Kabbah's government to serve as implementers. It is therefore highly implausible to suppose it was intended to apply to them. The UN Charter specifically provides for a lawful government under threat to seek and receive the assistance of friendly states. Sierra Leone's government did so and Ecowas provided assistance.

Sandline's role appears to have been primarily that of a broker procuring arms for cash for President Kabbah's government. A recognised government has the right to hire foreign forces and Sandline's single logistical and reconnaissance helicopter can hardly have been crucial in the context of the assault by 10,000 Kamajors and at least 5,000 West African infantry backed by artillery, armoured vehicles, at least 20 helicopters (including gunships), as many fixed wing aircraft and an offshore naval squadron.

The non-communication among the British Diplomatic Service, Foreign Office officials, Foreign Office ministries, Ministry of Defence, DTI and Customs indeed appears inept to the point of a Carry On farce but is not a breach of embargo or international law.


Lewes, East Sussex