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JB Dauda clarifies arms importation allegation

JB Dauda clarifies arms importation allegation

Sierra Leone’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Hon. Joseph Bandabla Dauda, has said that the All People’s Congress (APC) Government has not imported arms and ammunition to equip a paramilitary force, as stated by the former Executive Representative of the United Nations Secretary General, Mr. Michael Von Schulenburg, during the UN Security Council Debate on Sierra Leone in New York last Thursday.

Hon. Dauda clarified that the order for the arms importation and the delivery referred to by Schulenburg were routine, to equip the Sierra Leone army and the Police, and it was made long ago and had nothing to do with recent events or the forthcoming elections. It was a routine importation of arms and ammunition for the Sierra Leone armed forces in general – as done by all other countries – to make their armed forces fully equipped to handle threats to internal peace and national sovereignty. It was not an unusual event, the minister further clarified and thus he saw no reason for Mr. Schulenburg’s reference to the importation as an act of national concern.

During Thursday’s Security Council Meeting to consider the Report of the UN Secretary General on the United Nations Integrated Peace building Office in Sierra Leone ( UNIPSIL ) for the past six months, Mr. Schulenburg , who is aggrieved for being recalled by the UN months before the end of his tenure, alleged that “the Government has imported assault weapons worth millions of dollars in January of this year to equip a recently enlarged Para-military wing of its police, the Operational Services Division (OSD)”, and this ,  he said,  was “of great concern. ”  He directed: “I would urge the Government to fully clarify these reports and, if true, explain the intended use of these weapons.”

The Minister said that it was a logical and natural thing for any country to equip its armed forces. He pointed out that Sierra Leone had an unfortunate experience 19 years ago when the armed forces were so ill-equipped that they had to abandon the battle field when rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), led by Foday Sankoh, invaded the country. The invasion led to an 11-yesr civil war that killed over 200, 000 people and left the country’s infrastructure in ruins. “We cannot wait until there is another war or threat to our national security before we arm ourselves. We have to beef up our security forces before any attack on our sovereignty”, the minister stressed.

Minister Dauda said that the arms importation was totally unrelated to the forthcoming elections. “When you look at the massive and magnificent infrastructural developments that this government has undertaken, it would be foolhardy for anybody to think that this government would go on the path of chaos that will destroy these infrastructures it had laboured to put up. Besides the government is certain to win the elections”

The minister said that the alarm raised by Mr. Schulenburg was mischievous. He reiterated the point that “Every nation has a right to beef up its security forces for national protection”, asserting that “there is no country in the world that is not amassing defensive weapons. No country wants to be taken unawares as it happened to us on March 23, 1991. Thus equipping your security forces cannot be treated as any event to create alarm”, he continued.

Asked whether it was true that there was a leaked Bill of Laiding as claimed by Schulenburg and how he thought this document was leaked, if true, the Foreign Minister said there was no secret around the arms importation because it was routine -Something that governments do at regular intervals. “The arms importation was followed by the normal documents that follow shipment. Those documents can be got from the Customs Department. There was nothing illegal about it so I do not understand what he meant by leaked bill of laiding”, he further explained.

Asked about Schulenburg’s other allegation that there was an expansion of the Operational Services Division (OSD) of the Police, Foreign Minister Dauda said that too was routine. “We do not have to wait for war or for any threat to our national sovereignty. We have to increase the size of the Police to be able to deploy them throughout the country if there was any threat to the peace and security of the nation. As a government, we have a duty to ensure that we are able to respond swiftly and efficiently to threats to our national security .This is what any efficient government that is committed to the welfare and safety of its people does.”

Asked whether he made this credible-sounding clarification to members of the Security Council following Schulenburg’s allegations, the Minister said he had a meeting with the Chinese ambassador. ” I explained to him on a bilateral basis.” He however added: “But as a sovereign nation, we cannot be made to account to anybody for the security measures we take. I cannot see ourselves having to explain to Schulenburg the moves we take to protect and defend our country. The other members of the Security know that we cannot sit down and wait until our country is invaded or our internal security threatened before we take security measures. They know that all other country buy arms too. There is nothing to explain. ”

Asked whether the Police would be able to provide watertight security to ensure free and fair elections, the Foreign Minister reiterated President Koroma’s commitment to make sure that the elections are conducted in an atmosphere of peace and transparency. He said that the Police now have the necessary training and equipment to protect and defend the country and he had no doubt that the Police will do all that is required to make the elections safe for everybody.

The Minister attributed some of the hysteria in the country to the sense of inadequacy being felt by the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP). “Because they do not have any program for the socio-economic and political development of the country, they have decided to concentrate on creating panic. But this is understood by the people of Sierra Leone and the international community. The SLPP also said that we were arming ex-combatants for the elections but it was found to be untrue,” the minister explained.

Hon. Dauda said that the APC Government’s standing with the international community is excellent. “At the Security Council meeting, we were commended for making considerable progress in consolidating peace and security and building a better future for our nation. The economic forecast under us is also good. Structures we have also put together to ensure free and fair elections like the biometric registration were also commended,” he stated.

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