Frontline World

Sierra Leone - Gunrunners


Synopsis of "Gunrunners"

Web-exclusive report on key players in the small arms trade

Source of Black Market Weapons

U.N. Investigator

State Department Analyst

Gunrunning, Cold War Stockpiles, and Conflict Diamonds



U.N. Report on Angola
This U.N. Security Council document thoroughly explores how sanctions are implemented, and circumvented, in one of Africa's most troubled states. It contains useful sections on arms movement from Bulgaria and Ukraine, a brief biography of arms trader Victor Bout, and information on conflict diamonds funding Angola's 25-year-old civil war.

U.N. Report on Sierra Leone
A U.N. panel of experts discusses the transshipment of weapons through Burkina Faso and Liberia. The report also contains more information on the connection between the diamond trade and the small-arms trade. The authors recommend that rich nations that import diamonds help establish stronger international standards to keep "conflict diamonds" from funding destabilizing civil wars.

U.N. Report on Liberia
A panel of experts reports on arms trader Leonid Minin and his connections with Liberian president, Charles Taylor. The authors examine Liberia's major income sources -- diamonds, timber, rubber and maritime registries (also known as flags of convenience) -- and how that income stream can be diverted into destabilizing activities. They say changes in air transport requirements in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone would make it more difficult for gunrunners to operate.

The Role of the United States
This Universal Press Syndicate opinion column comments on last year's U.N. Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects. The author says the United States "refused to accept even the most modest global standards" for controlling the illegal small-arms trade.

The Arms Fixers: Controlling the Brokers and Shipping Agents
Published on the Web site of the Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfers, this book by arms experts Brian Wood and Johan Peleman details the history of small-arms transfers in regions of conflict such as Western Africa. The authors outline how the Cold War has left both Western and Eastern Bloc countries with old stockpiles of weapons and the means to secretly deliver them to proxy armies. These habits are hard to break, the authors say, and new international guidelines must be put in place to strictly regulate all arms sales.

The Norwegian Perspective
The Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfers is a comprehensive database of international newspaper articles, country profiles and in-house reports. The site, representing a partnership of the Norwegian Red Cross and Norwegian peace groups, focuses on the human rights problems associated with the flow of guns to unstable regions such as Western Africa.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute
Founded in 1966 by an act of the Swedish Parliament, this think tank collects and studies data on modern military technology, from small arms to biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. The institute's mission is to provide empirical data on armaments for researchers and policy makers.

The U.S. State Department Perspective
This June 2001 paper questions the United Nation's effectiveness in stopping small-arms transfers to African countries. The authors say that the "name and shame" strategy has no effect on illicit arms dealers and their business partners. They lay some blame on African nations themselves for porous borders, corrupt officials and a lack of effective regional cooperation.

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Following the International Diamond Trail
"With This Ring", a radio documentary series from American RadioWorks, tells the story of diamonds, from the birth of the DeBeers cartel a century ago to the relentless marketing equating diamonds with love and the harsh realities of African mining.

Global Witness on Conflict Diamonds
This U.K.-based NGO documents the connections between natural resource exploitation and human rights violations, and works to change policy. The site contains a chronology of conflict-diamond legislation and the reactions of the diamond business. It also provides links to and descriptions of two industry groups, the World Diamond Council and the Diamond High Council, created to deal with the issue.

Not Just Diamonds
Beyond conflict diamonds, other natural resources, such as oil, timber and water, play a major role in most world conflicts. The Global Policy Forum, which monitors U.N. policy, has a rich database of articles and U.N. documents.

Timber Can Be Bloody Too
This July 13, 2003 story by FRONTLINE/World co-producer William Kistner for the Philadelphia Inquirer explores a rarely-known aspect of the global “conflict commoities” trade. Unwittingly, consumers in the United States are buying “conflict timber” from a company related to James Taylor, former president of Liberia indicted for war crimes. 

"Diamond Hunters Fuel Africa's Brutal Wars"
This article compares today's largely private exploitation of Africa's resources with the "scramble for Africa" of the European imperial age. Filling a vacuum left by the evaporation of the Cold War, foreign companies and governments are flooding countries such as Sierra Leone, playing rebels against governments to get access to rich diamond mines. (The Washington Post, October 16, 1999)

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Flood of Arms From Ukraine
This report takes the Ukrainian government to task for ignoring a huge outflow of illegal weapons. It cites a Ukrainian Parliament finding that $30 billion worth of armaments have been stolen and shipped abroad. (The Christian Science Monitor, February 12, 2002)

The Supply Side of the Illegal Arms Trade
Human Rights Watch builds on the U.N. report on Liberia in this paper from November 15, 2001. The authors say that U.N. embargoes "fail miserably" because of the weak rule of law in former Eastern Bloc countries.

Weapons Systems to Iraq?
Read the transcript of an audiotape that purportedly features Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma approving the sale of a high-tech radar system to Iraq. The system is capable of detecting aircraft -- even those using stealth technology -- and targeting them with anti-aircraft missiles. (Center for Public Integrity Web site)

Ukraine Takes Flak, Talks Back
This white paper from a Russian think tank acknowledges that Ukraine may have exported weapons under questionable circumstances and still needs to work on developing controls. However, the authors claim that the continuing criticism of Ukraine is unfair and comes primarily from competitors in the global arms market. (Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, "State Controls Over Sensitive Exports," July 2001.)

NATO and Cheap Guns
In this 1999 report, Human Rights Watch addresses the broader issue of Cold War stockpiles and the economic forces that drive the massive transfer of weapons abroad. Describing their research as "a wake-up call for NATO," they recommend a Treaty-wide policy on arms transfers from member nations.

Bulgaria's Role
This thoroughly researched report from Human Rights Watch details the history, economics and practices of the Bulgarian arms industry. According to the report, "Bulgaria has earned a reputation as an anything-goes weapons bazaar where Kalashnikov assault rifles, mortars, anti-tank mines, ammunition, explosives and other items are available for a price -- no matter who the buyers are or how they might use the deadly wares."

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African News From Africa
A nominee for a 2002 Webby award for News (other nominees include the BBC and Poynter Institute), posts more than 700 new stories daily from over 100 African media organizations. The site is searchable by region and country, with daily headlines and special reports.

One Liberian Perspective
The Perspective is a Liberian news service published in Atlanta, Georgia, by the Liberian Democratic Future. The site has a clear political agenda, as evidenced by articles such as "When a Psychopath Rules a Nation." Nonetheless, the site has a point of view not found in mainstream publications.

Liberia Asks West Africa to Help Fight Rebels
Over the past few weeks, fighting between Liberian President Charles Taylor's government and rebels has heated up. (, May 17, 2002)

Kabbah Declared Winner in Sierra Leone
In recent elections -- elections made possible by the UN peacekeepers -- Sierra Leone President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah defeated the party of the rebels he fought. (, May 19, 2002)

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