9 March 2012
When the United Nations lifted its decade long sanctions placed on the importation of arms and ammunition into Sierra Leone last year, many peace-loving Sierra Leoneans in the country and abroad, were horrified at the prospect of a proliferation of military grade arms and weapons, in a country notorious for its ten year brutal civil war.
Today, there is little doubt those fears and suspicions have been vindicated. Leaked government documents show that president Koroma’s government is using money meant to support the country’s poor and sick to purchase an array of heavy military assault weapons and munitions.
Sierra Leone has received over $3 Billion in foreign aid in the last ten years from the international community to help the country recover from a brutal war, which destroyed its infrastructure, education, health and civic institutions.
But the question many in the country are asking, is whether president Koroma is preparing for post-elections confrontation with the opposition political parties?
The weapons are not meant for the army, but for the arming of a paramilitary police force, said to be loyal to the ruling APC party. Elections are due to take place on the 17 November 2012.
Various commissions of enquiry into political violence in the country have named key supporters of the ruling APC party, as culprits of the violence that took place in Freetown, Kono and other districts.
Several pro-opposition supporters have been arrested and charged to court, but few APC supporters have been subjected to the rule of law.
The importation of such consignment of heavy weapons and ammunitions into the country has raised the political temperature, and is likely to affect voter turnout on polling day in November.
Leaked documents seen by the Sierra Leone Telegraph, show that the purchasing price of the weapons to be approximately $5 Million, excluding contractor fees, which critics say have been paid in-kind by the government – signing a lucrative diamond mining agreement with the Belgian arms dealer.
Included in the consignment are: 50 PKM heavy machine guns, 7.62X54mm at nearly $17,000 each for a price of nearly $1 million dollars; 100,000 rounds of ammunition for the heavy machine guns at a price of $180,000; 100 RPK light machine guns, 7.62X39mm at a total price of $345,000; 20,000 rounds of light machine gun rounds at over $20,000; 100 40mm under-barrel grenade launchers for AK 47 with a range of 300 meters at nearly $100,000; 2,500 advanced new stock AK 47 assault rifles 7.62X39mm for a price of almost $3 million; 225,000 rounds of 7.62X39mm ammunition for the price of nearly $150,000; 200 9mm automatic pistols for the price of $74,000; and 50,000 brass case rounds of 9mm pistol ammunition for a price of $17,500.
A letter – dated 18 January 2012, was sent by the government to the Acting Commissioner of the National Revenue Authority, requesting duty free waiver for the consignment, which arrived from China, so as arms to ensure the “prompt clearance from the port…to minimize risk.”
The consignments are believed to have arrived at the Freetown Sea Port in 626 wooden boxes, two months ago.
But, defending the government’s decision to arm the ‘special paramilitary police force’, the Assistant Inspector General of Police – Al Sheikh Kamara said on national television early this week, his force needs the weapons to protect the citizens of the country against those “who may want to use violence to achieve their political aims”.
Whilst declining to name those suspected of wanting to use violence to achieve their political aims, he expressed anger at critics of the government, who he said have made the importation of the consignment of arms a political issue.
The police officer confirmed that the British High Commissioner in Freetown has demanded to see the consignment of arms imported by president Koroma, as this may have violated the spirit of the terms of the UN’s Security Council resolution to lift the banning of importation of weapons into the country.
Al Sheikh said that he will give full access to the British High Commissioner to inspect the arms and ammunitions, but was clearly unhappy that opposition politicians have drawn the attention of the international community to what he regards as – the internal affairs of Sierra Leone.
He said that the police have a right to procure arms, and that this request was made to the government as far back as 2010.
Whilst this may be true, critics say that the arms deal lacked transparency and that Parliament was not informed of the government’s policy to re-militarise the country’s security forces, especially with general elections just months away.
Sierra Leone may have enjoyed ten years of relative peace and freedom from anarchy and outright lawlessness, but that peace is still fragile.
And the re-militarisation of the security forces and proliferation of heavy arms and weapons, seriously put at risk, all that has been gained in building sustainable peace and guaranteeing democratic freedoms.