Africa, Asia-Pacific, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines

DISARMAMENT: UN Alarm Over Increase in Mercenaries

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 16 1997 (IPS) - The United Nations is alarmed at the growing number of hired gunfighters appearing in Zaire, Angola, Rwanda, Tajikistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, and former Yugoslavia.

“There has been a significant presence of mercenaries in all the great armed conflicts,” Enrique Bernales Ballesteros, the U.N. Special Rapporteur On Mercenaries, said Friday.

Ballesteros, a Peruvian, pointed out that the problem of mercenaries is also standing in the way of any peace process in Zaire.

“The mercenary’s self-interest is for the prolongation of the conflict rather than for a genuine amelioration of the situation in the country,” he said.

The rise in numbers of mercenaries from Africa could be linked to the problems of unemployment, “which was clearly not one of the reasons behind the increase of mercenaries from Europe.” Asked who was supplying weapons to mercenaries, Ballesteros cited unidentified Western nations.

He singled out the South Africa-based company Executive Outcomes which has provided either military training or mercenaries to Sierra Leone, Angola, Liberia, and more recently, to Papua New Guinea. The South African authorities held the position that Executive Outcomes, which has an office in London, was a legally constituted company, Ballesteros said.

But while “the facade may be legal,” he noted, “the question is, what is behind that facade.”

Ballesteros said that there was an urgent need to create legislation to deal with the problems of mercenaries. Over time, he said, these enterprises could be stronger than some of the sovereign states they are hired to protect.

An International Convention against Mercenaries adopted by the 185-member General Assembly in 1989 has been ratified only by 11 countries, including Barbados, Cyprus, Georgia, the Maldives, the Seychelles, Suriname, Togo and Ukraine. The Convention can enter into force only after 22 states have ratified or acceded to it.

By U.N. standards, the use of mercenaries is a violation of the principles of sovereign equality, political independence, and the territorial integrity of member-states. The United Nations criticised African governments last year for hiring mercenaries to provide security in return for a stake in a nation’s 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,” Ballesteros says.

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

The government of Angola entered into contracts with Executive Outcomes last year to provide protection in return for a share in the profits derived from the exploitation of the country’s natural resources. The company also offered protection and internal security using mercenaries recruited mainly in South Africa and Britain.

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

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

“Once a greater degree of security has been attained, the firm apparently begins to exploit the concessions 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 U.N. report said.

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.

 
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DISARMAMENT: UN Alarm Over Increase in Mercenaries

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 15 1997 (IPS) - The United Nations is alarmed at the growing number of hired gunfighters appearing in Zaire, Angola, Rwanda, Tajikistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, and former Yugoslavia.
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