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Sierra Leone Welcomes Arrest Of Charles Taylor Associate On Gun Running Charges

The Special Court for Sierra Leone has welcomed the arrest of an associate of former Liberian President Charles Taylor in the Netherlands.

The Special Court Leone says Dutch authorities have charged Gus van Kouwenhoven with war crimes and gun smuggling in violation of a United Nations arms embargo on Liberia.

The UN-backed Special Court said it had provided extensive assistance to Dutch investigators in the case. The court said it did not have evidence to find that Mr. Kouwenhoven was among those bearing “greatest responsibility” for international crimes in Sierra Leone so the court could not indict him. However, the court said enough evidence was found to charge Mr. Kouwenhoven with war crimes and arms trafficking. Mr. Kouwenhoven ran a hotel in Liberia as well as a timber company.

“Charles Taylor called the company that Gus was general manager of his ‘pepper bush.’ In West Africa this basically means something that is very, very important to you and it provided a lot of money for Taylor and for his exploits in Sierra Leone and really kept him alive and in power in the region,” said Alex Yearsley of Global Witness, the London-based private organization that investigates links between resource exploitation and human rights abuses. “

It was a huge amount of money, up to nearly about 100 million dollars a year that Taylor was able to take from the timber trade,” said Mr. Yearsley. He told Africa Division reporter Cindy Shiner that Mr. Kouwenhoven sold timber mainly to markets in France and China. Timber sanctions were eventually imposed on Liberia.

Mr. Yearsley said the international community must pay closer attention to issues such as illegal logging. “If law enforcement and intelligence agencies were to begin to really look at some of the economic incentives and drivers behind some of these devastating conflicts then we would really see far less of these operators being able to exist with impunity and to be able to still come into London and Paris and Antwerp and sell their wares,” he said.

“It really must end. We must have the end of impunity for these people that seem to walk around with total freedom.”

Former President Taylor fled Liberia in August 2003 and is living in exile in Nigeria.