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Defense Minister Brownie Samukai has accused ArcelorMittal, the biggest steel company in the world of attempting to hire foreign mercenaries into the country to protect their equipment while offloading them at Monrovia’s harbor.
But the company’s management has furiously rejected the claims as false and invited military experts to inspect its facilities.
“ArcelorMittal has hired foreigners from a private company of ex-military or ex-security personnel wanting to bring them in the country to protect when they are doing their offloading,” the Defense Minister told newsmen over the weekend.
The Minister didn’t give details of the operation and its location but named the company as ISS which he said authorities of his ministry already have some information about.
Reports say that since 2001, UN investigators have documented numerous violations of arms embargo on governments and armed groups in Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.
The Defense Minister said if the company brings the men into the country, it will be a contravention of the Liberian Constitution and the United Nations protocol on “non state actors.”
“These are mercenaries if you want to call them that,” the Minister said in a rather angry tone.
Even though the Minister didn’t state the constitutional provision and the UN protocol that will be violated by ArcelorMittal, he said, “The UN Security Council on arms embargo on Liberia states very clearly that non-state actors are not authorized to carry or bear arms in Liberia.”
“Do they do the same in their countries? I think it is a very bad precedent and it is completely unacceptable,” the minister said.
Instead of hiring foreigners especially those with military background into the country with weapons, Minister Samukai said Arcelor/Mittal should consult with the government to provide them security for such a task.
“Our territorial boundaries have challenges; we have the Liberia National Coast Guard. We have our local security, if they need protection they can ask the Liberian government to do that but not to go and spend millions of dollars when Liberians are looking for jobs …”
Tens of thousands of people are killed or wounded each year in conflicts that are fought primarily with small and light weapons and in crime-ridden areas outside of conflict zones.
Approximately half of the international terrorist incidents documented in the 2003 the US Department of State report on global terrorism were perpetrated with small arms and light weapons.
The minister expressed fears that if ArcelorMittal can be engaged in such a venture, other companies could also do the same.
But the Communication Director of ArcelorMittal, Mrs. Pearson Hesta, denied that the company was engaged in such a practice.
“ArcelorMittal Liberia does not hire armed guards nor does any company contracted to do work for us. Furthermore, we have not hired ISS (International Security Services) to carry out work for us,” she said.
“We fully abide by the United Nations mandate against arms and under no circumstances will we violate that mandate. ArcelorMittal Liberia is also committed to … the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights that sets out international best-practice standards for security arrangements of industrial operations.
“As required by law, the coast guards and the Ministry of Defense are able to inspect any of our vessels at anytime and we invite them to do so.”