Tripoli paper trail leads to SA

2011-09-06 22:45
A schematic for a "rapid intervention force" staffed by 73 South Africans and 63 Libyans under the group command of a South African. (Beeld)

A schematic for a "rapid intervention force" staffed by 73 South Africans and 63 Libyans under the group command of a South African. (Beeld)

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Johannesburg - Documents discovered on a Tripoli street corner provide tantalising clues that South Africans may be in the thick of the civil war still raging in Libya.

The documents - written largely in Arabic - include an invoice from what appears to be a South African security company for "specialist training" in the country during the height of the conflict, another suggests that plans for a 136-strong South African-led "rapid intervention force" were drawn up and that arms shipments from Chinese companies, via South Africa, were contemplated.

The activities would all have violated a United Nations arms embargo imposed on the country in February this year.

Graeme Smith, a foreign correspondent for Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper found the papers "blowing in the wind" on a street corner in the wealthy Tripoli suburb of Bab Akkarah where many of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's ruling elite, and some of his sons lived. 

"The documents were sitting on the side of the curb where someone had abandoned them," Smith said from Tripoli. "It would seem they were dumped in a hurry."

He said former Gaddafi loyalists who form part of the country’s transitional authority identified military officials named in the documents and confirmed the authenticity of the green-eagle letterhead.

One of the documents, which Smith shared exclusively with Media24 Investigations, is an invoice from a company calling itself Alfa Security Services and bearing a Pretoria postal address.

There is no record of such a company being registered in South Africa and its possible that this is a false name.

Dated June 29 this year, the document sets out details of a 12-month contract by "six training team specialists" and two "support team specialists" at a cost of $5.4m.

Media24 has established that the PO Box listed on the document is the registered postal address of South Africa National Parks (SANParks) in Pretoria.

SANParks spokesperson Wanda Mkutshulwa described the document as “worrying”.

"This will require a full investigation, nobody should be sharing a PO Box with SANParks. SANParks is not linked to any such company and we are not aware of its existence, however, we will find out if there are any links to possibly an individual," she said.

Another document, in both Arabic and English, is a schematic for a "rapid intervention force" staffed by 73 South Africans and 63 Libyans under the group command of a South African.

It lists material teams would use including 127 AK-47 assault rifles, 12 PKM machine guns, a dozen RPG-7 rocket launchers, 12 sniper rifles, 60mm mortars, pistols and medical bags.

According to the document the teams would be assigned 35 Land Cruisers and two eight ton military trucks. A Libyan cameraman would accompany the group along with an interpreter.

Smith also found a six-page document in Arabic on the letterhead of the Libyan armed forces "Technical Affairs" division.

Dated July 31 this year, the memo provides details of secret talks conducted in China by Libyan military officials who visited weapons manufacturing companies in a bid to procure at least $200m in weapons, ammunition, rocket launchers, antitank missiles and portable surface-to-air missiles.

According to the memo, the Chinese companies suggested "they make the contracts with either Algeria or South Africa, because these countries previously worked with China".

"Export via a third party may take place... through Algeria or South Africa."

The companies agreed to continue "discussions, negotiations, and signing of contracts" in Algeria.

Signed by a retired Libyan colonel, Ahmed Mohammed Ubaidah, the memo recommends “that we seize this opportunity to get what we need in order to defend our country, revolution, and remove all the criminal gangs and rebels".

Serious questions

This week, China's foreign ministry admitted that the talks had taken place, but said they had been conducted without the knowledge of the Chinese government.

South Africa’s national conventional arms control committee (NCACC) says no transit permits were issued for arms shipments to Libya.

Documents discovered in Tripoli show that Chinese arms manufacturers considered routing large consignments of arms through South Africa to Muammar Gaddafi's embattled regime in Tripoli as Libya’s civil war raged.

The documents also point to the involvement of South African security contractors in the country and plans for a South African-led "rapid intervention force".

The Chinese foreign ministry has since claimed that no shipments took place.

NCACC spokesperson, Tlali Tlali said yesterday that no permits had been issued for arms shipments from China, via South Africa, to Libya.

In June, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, the chairperson of the NCACC, said that ten conveyance permits were issued in 2010 and a further two between January and March this year.

But he said there was "no legislative requirement to report on conveyance permits" and  information about such permits was therefore not contained in the NCACC’s annual reports.

On Tuesday, Tlali disclosed that the two permits issued between January and March involved shipments originating in the UK and destined for Lesotho.

Tlali said a further five transit permits were issued after March this year for shipments destined for Botswana (two permits), Kenya, the Philippines and Taiwan.

He said the NCACC was not aware of the existence of a "rapid intervention force" or the involvement of a South African security company in Libya.

Democratic Alliance defence spokesperson David Maynier said on Tuesday that the documents found in Tripoli raise "very serious questions about the conventional arms control regime in South Africa".

"The political skeletons are bound to begin falling out of the cupboard after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi's regime in Libya," he said.

"It is a major concern that the Chinese offered to export conventional weapons to Gaddafi’s regime via South Africa."

* Send tip-offs to Media24's investigations team at investigations@media24.com.
Read more on:    tlali tlali  |  jeff radebe  |  david maynier  |  muammar gaddafi  |  china  |  sa  |  libya  |  libya protests  |  uprisings  |  north africa  |  southern africa
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