UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MONROVIA 001012
DEPT FOR AF/W, INR/AA-BGRAVES
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ASEC PGOV MCAP LI
SUBJECT: LIBERIA: REPORTS OF ARMS CACHES - MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
Â¶1. (U) Recently there have been a slew of headlines in Liberian
papers and in some international dailies on "arms caches" being
discovered in Liberia and weapons being delivered through the
airport. The press accounts have also linked the discoveries of the
alleged arms and weapons deliveries to the recent arrests of alleged
coup plotters former General Charles Julu and former Speaker during
the National Transitional Government (NTGL) George Koukou.
Headlines in Liberian papers have used such terms as "insurgents"
and "rebels" in connection with the ammunition and weapons
discovered. The press accounts are sensationalist and inaccurate
and in one case, led to ethnic clashes in Bong County.
ARMS CACHES NO MORE THAN SCRAP METAL
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Â¶2. (U) The first batch of sensationalist reporting, which made its
way into international press accounts as a result of Reuters and
other Liberia-based stringers feeding stories to the international
wire services, concerned the discovery of so-called ammunition and
weapons in Gbarnga in Bomi County on August 5. Liberian dailies
during the week of August 6-10 published and re-published
sensationalist stories on the munitions discovered.
Â¶3. (SBU) The facts are that the items found consisted of 19 burlap
bags of spent casings and unserviceable, rusty, mud-filled
cartridges of various calibers discovered at the home of one
Muhammad Sharif, a Muslim Mandingo scrap metal dealer in Gbarnga.
Approximately one bag of unserviceable AK-47 and pistol rounds were
culled from the 19 bags and were transferred to the Liberia National
Police Headquarters in Monrovia. Sharif was arrested by the LNP
after the discovery.
ARMS DELIVERY THROUGH ROBERTS INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT DESTINED FOR
SECURITY SECTOR REFORM PROGRAM
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Â¶4. (U) A second alarmist report of arms coming into the country
occurred with an August 8 press account in the Liberian daily, "New
Vision," which claimed that 71 boxes of arms had come in through the
airport and were consigned to the attention of a Training Officer at
SSR. This press account sought to link this arms shipment through
RIA to the munitions discovered in Gbarnga and spin it all into some
web of insurgents planning attacks around the country.
Â¶5. (U) This reporting also was misleading in suggesting the arms
would be used by insurgents. While it is true that 71 boxes of
munitions came into Liberia through RIA, they were in fact destined
for the US-funded SSR program being carried out by American
contractors Dyncorps and PAE. The shipment was approved by both the
UN and ECOWAS.
Â¶6. (U) While this second story of weapons coming through RIA was
quickly clarified by Dyncorps and had no press "legs," the first
account of munitions at the home of a Mandingo in Gbarnga resulted
in inter-ethnic violence and an attack on a mosque.
KPELLE-MANDINGO CLASHES AFTER REPORTS OF ARMS CACHES
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Â¶7. (U) When word of the discovery of "ammunition" at the home of a
Mandingo in Gbarnga spread among the local population a group of
300-400 Christian Kpelle congregated at the home of Sharif, the
scrap metal dealer, and began throwing stones and attempted to set
the house ablaze. Concurrently, several individuals from the mob
broke away and attempted to attack the Gbarnga city mosque, which
was being guarded by 25-30 Muslim Mandingos. Crowds of both Muslim
Mandingos and Christian Kpelle gathered into the streets until the
Bangladesh Battalion (BANBATT 11), supported by UN Police, the LNP,
and a UN Formed police Unit (FPU) were able to restore control and
disperse the crowds.
Â¶8. (SBU) Tension between the Muslim Mandingos and the Christian
Kpelle tribes is a longstanding issue in Gbarnga. The Mandingos, a
Muslim tribe primarily concentrated along the border with Guinea are
a commercially-minded community of traders and merchants. Their
relative prosperity and isolation from Christian communities often
causes resentment among other ethnic groups. The tension culminated
in October 2004 when a large number of Mandingos were targeted and
killed and their property destroyed. Most Mandingos have returned
but there are ongoing disputes over ownership of land. There are
reports that Mandingos are increasingly frustrated by their
displacement and a slow and dysfunctional judicial system unable to
process their land claims. Other tribes are fearful that the
Mandingos will forcibly try to reclaim lands.
Â¶9. (SBU) What has concerned UNMIL security personnel was the
alacrity with which the news of a discovery of unusable empty
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cartridges and rusty, mud-filled munitions spread through the
community and how quickly ethnically-based violence ensued. A UN
report on the incident urges the local administration in the area to
work more diligently to mitigate ethnic tensions in the area and the
need for the judicial system to resolve stagnating land disputes.
This incident further demonstrates the fragility of the state and
the ongoing need for a robust UN peacekeeping presence in Liberia.