News24

Sierra Leone must explain assault weapons

2012-03-22 22:36

New York - A top UN envoy on Thursday called on the impoverished Sierra Leone government to explain why it has imported several million dollars worth of assault weapons for a police paramilitary wing.

The country is still rebuilding after a civil war that ended a decade ago and with political tensions high ahead of a presidential election in November.

UN envoy to Sierra Leone, Michael von der Schulenburg, told the UN Security Council the reported arms shipment in January was "of great concern".

He said the arms were intended for a recently enlarged police para-military wing, the Operational Services Division. He quoted a leaked bill of lading as indicating the arms include "machine guns and even grenade launchers".

"Sierra Leone is under no arms embargo. However given Sierra Leone's progress in establishing peace and security throughout the country and its relatively low crime rate, it is not clear why the police would need such weapons," the envoy said.

"I would urge the government to full clarify these reports and, if true, explain the intended use of these weapons."

Schulenburg said the November 17 presidential election, in which President Ernest Koroma is seeking a new term, would be a "major challenge for the country's nascent democracy.

"Sierra Leone must pass this crucial test in its history without allowing the demons of the past to re-emerge," said the envoy.

Tens of thousands died in the West African country's 1991-2002 civil war.

Political tensions have risen in the lead-up to the November vote, with some clashes between supporters of rival parties in recent months.