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DISARMAMENT: U.N.Convention Against Mercenaries Gathers Dust

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 19 1998 (IPS) - A U.N. convention against mercenaries – adopted by the General Assembly as far back as December 1989 – is gathering dust for want of nations to ratify the document.

Enrique Bernales Ballesteros of Peru, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Mercenaries, has appealed to member states to ratify, “as soon as possible,” the long-dormant convention aimed at outlawing mercenaries fighting mostly in today’s civil wars in Africa.

The nine-year old convention needs 22 ratifications to become international law but only 16 of the 185 member states have so far ratified it, he revealed Friday.

The delay in the entry into force of the ‘International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries’ is facilitating the growing new phenomenon of mercenarism, Barnales says.

The 16 countries ratifying the treaty are: Azerbaijan, Barbados, Belarus, Cameroon, Cyprus, Georgia, Italy, Maldives, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Suriname, Togo, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Ten states have siCongo (former Zaire), Zambia and Zimbabwe. They also have tried tried to oust the government of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in the Maldives and the government of President Said Mohamed Djohar in the Comoros in the 1980s and early 1990s.

“Although the African continent still suffers the most from mercenary activities,” Bernales says in a 15-page report, “mercenaries also have been active in other continents, where they have been involved in, inter alia, terrorist attacks and illicit trafficking.”

The report includes a Cuban complaint, currently under investigation, “regarding attacks carried out by mercenaries, acting for third parties, to cause chaos and political destabilisation in that country”.

In a letter to the Special Rapporteur in August this year, Cuba quoted extensively from a New York Times article where a Cuban national living in Florida admitted he had organised a campaign of bombings last year in hotels, restaurants and discotheques in Cuba, in which an Italian tourist was killed

The study, however, focuses heavily on two African countries – Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo – where mercenaries intervened to change the course of the civil war.

According to the report, the ousted President of Sierra Leone Tejan Kabbah allegedly sought help from a company called Sandline International “in providing military backing and assisting his return to power.”

Mining and financial companies with interests and assets in Sierra Leone allegedly supported and even partially funded the hiring of Sandline International. The London-based company is also charged with exporting military equipment and helicopters to Sierra Leone, despite a United Nations embargo.

The same company is said to have contracted in 1997 with the government of Sir Julius Chan of Papua New Guinea to fight the rebels of the Revolutionary Army of the Island of Bougainville.

“That government was ultimately overthrown and the company expelled from the country,” the report noted.

The study said that Sandline International, however, is not the first security services company to operate in Sierra Leone. Another company, the South Africa-based Executive Outcomes, intervened militarily in a previous conflict in Sierra Leone under a contract for the provision of services which brought it millions of dollars and other company benefits.

“It is well known that this company has had no qualms about recruiting mercenary elements when its participation has been sought in security matters, a factor that would undermine the internal stability of any country.” the report said.

The case of Sierra Leone confirms this, the report notes, since despite the company’s presence in the country for several months, the coup d’etat of May 1997 could not be avoided.

The study also refers to the presence of mercenaries in the former Zaire who attempted to defend the former government of President Mobutu Sese Seko. Most of them decided to leave the country after the fall of Kisangani.

The Special Rapporteur has been informed of the presence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo of the London-registered firm Defense Systems Ltd, which is responsible for guarding various mines and petroleum installations, as well as seare estabished, but it reappears when these conditions experience a crisis.”

Furthermore, “changes in its operating methods, such as the use of private firms offering security services and military assistance on the international market, do not alter its intrinsic nature. They simply make it more sophisticated and also more dangerous,” the report says.

Last year, the Washington-based Centre for Defense Information published a report titled ‘Soldiers of Fortune Ltd’, which urged the creation of an international register for mercenary firms similar to the U.N. Register of Conventional Arms.

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