Africa, Economy & Trade, Headlines

UNITED NATIONS: Mercenaries Seek Stake in Diamond Mines

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 5 1996 (IPS) - The United Nations is critical of African governments hiring mercenaries to provide security in return for a stake in the countries’ rich mineral resources.

“To suggest that some mercenary activities are illegal and others legal is to make a dangerous distinction which could affect international relations of peace and respect among states,” says Enrique Bernales Ballesteros, a U.N. Special Rapporteur investigating mercenary activities worldwide.

Ballesteros told delegates Tuesday that mercenary initiatives by companies registered as “security firms” in a third country were a threat to national sovereignty.

The United Nations has identified two countries — Angola and Sierra Leone — where mercenaries have been hired to protect gold and diamond mines.

These mercenaries have been provided by a British- and South African-registered security company called Executive Outcomes, whose British office is based in Alton, Hampshire.

In a report released here, Ballesteros says that not only do mercenary activities persist worldwide, but they are also undergoing a transformation.

These security firms, the report points out, are selling their services “mainly in exchange for concessions relating to mining and energy.”

“Once a greater degree of security has been attained, the firm apparently begins to exploit the cncessions it has received by setting up a number of associates and affiliates which engage in such varying activities as air transport, road building, and import and export, thereby acquiring a significant, if not hegemonic, presence in the economic life of the country in which it is operating,” the study says.

The United Nations points out that it is ironical that the security company providing mercenaries should be registered in South Africa when “it is well known that during apartheid years, South Africa was a base for many mercenary operations.”

The fact that some states consider the recruitment of mercenaries legal is “a grave danger to the united front which the international community must present in order to counter mercenary activities,” it added.

“This dangerous line of thinking should be abandoned and mercenary activities as a whole should be condemned, banned and characterised as illegal,” Ballesteros argues.

The government of Angola — a country which suffered repeated attacks by bands of mercenaries — has entered into contracts with Executive Outcomes to provide protection in return for a share in the profits gained from the exploitation of the country’s natural resources.

The company has offered protection and internal security using mercenaries recruited mainly in South Africa and Britain.

In Sierra Leone, the same company is reported to have signed contracts with the former National Provisional Ruling Council to provide military support in the form of specially trained mercenaries and weapons.

According to the U.N. report, about 500 mercenaries are alleged to be operating in Sierra Leone in exchange for cash payments and mining concessions for the contracting company.

In a letter to the United Nations Office in Geneva, Ambassador Nigel Williams of Britain has said that Branch Energy, a company affiliated to Executive Outcomes, has been contracted to work with the Koidu diamond mines in Sierra Leone.

Other EO-affiliated companies are Heritage Oil and Gas, GJW Government Relations, Capricorn Air and Ibis Airline.

“The recruitment of mercenaries in the UK is only illegal in certain very limited cases (namely when British citizens would serve in the forces of a foreign state at war with another foreign state which is at peace with the UK),” Williams says.

The British envoy also says that legislation to give effect to the U.N. Convention on Mercenaries “has been considered but, from a legal point of view, would be very difficult to implement.”

Jack Christofides of South Africa told delegates that his country was in the process of preparing legislation to restrict mercenary activities. The new legislation will be submitted to parliament, probably early next year.

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