UN: The South African link to the Somali arms smuggle

By Khadija Patel 19 July 2012

A leaked report from the United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea has torn into the South African government for its failure to tackle the scourge of South African “private security firms” in Somalia and, more damningly, its failure to actually co-operate with United Nations investigations. By KHADIJA PATEL.

A report by the United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, obtained on Monday by various news agencies, has already titillated the wires with bold headlines claiming that Eritrea’s political, financial, training, and logistical support for armed groups in Somalia diminished in the last year.

Eritrea does not get away scot-free; the report alleges that its government is complicit in the kidnap, torture and ransom of thousands of refugees, all of which forms part of the country’s multi-billion dollar arms smuggling industry.

Uganda, Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates have also been rapped over the knuckles. And, closer to home, the South African government is being investigated as well.

“The Monitoring Group has identified several countries currently serving as logistical hubs for (Private Security Company) operations in Somalia in violation of resolutions 733 (1992) and 1844 (2008), namely: Ethiopia, South Africa, Uganda and the United Arab Emirates,” the report says.

The Monitoring Group has this year highlighted the problematic role played by private security firms in Somalia, both in providing assistance to “non-statutory” forces in Puntland, and flooding Mogadishu with hefty men hauling around big guns. You see, South Africa is obliged under paragraph 5 of Security Council resolution 733 (1992) and paragraph 7 of Security Council resolution 1844 (2008), to take the necessary measures to prevent “the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of weapons and military equipment and the direct or indirect supply of technical assistance or training, financial or other assistance”. This report alleges the South African government has been either unwilling, or unable to do so.

The Monitoring Group is ultimately tasked with investigating possible violations of United Nations arms embargoes against Somalia and Eritrea, so what exactly has it found that draws the South African government into the murky world of arms smuggling and conflict in the Horn of Africa?

Among the private security companies fingered by the report are Australian African Global Investments (South African), the Pathfinder Corporation (based in South Africa), Sterling Corporate Services and Saracen International.

Pathfinder’s transparency and its efforts to comply with the sanctions regime is credited by the Monitoring Group as “arguably represent[ing] ‘best practices’ for private security companies in Somalia”.

The other South African company in question does not quite make the same standards. The Australian African Global Investments (AAGI) SA Proprietary limited company (PTY) Limited, a company incorporated on 11 December 2006 in South Africa, is owned by Lafras Luitingh and Nicholas “Nic” Van Den Bergh. This is also not the company’s debut in the Monitoring Group’s report. Last year’s report cited the company for its direct involvement in the supply of military equipment to the PMPF – the Puntland Marine Police Force, a police force ostensibly dedicated to fighting piracy.

“During the course of its mandate, the Monitoring Group has noted that technical assistance, vehicles, material and equipment provided to the PMPF in Puntland originated from, or transited, ports and airports located in the UAE, Uganda, Ethiopia and South Africa,” the report says.

The Monitoring Group claims it has evidence that AAGI South Africa was still providing, on 24 November 2011, support to the Puntland in Bosaaso from South Africa, using OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg to airlift equipment and supplies to the force. The Puntland Development Group still appears as the only consignee and local partner for Sterling Corporate Services/Saracen operations, including local logistics.

The relationship between AAGI and SCS/Saracen appears an intricately woven web that links the one to the other with strong South African connections.

The report notes, “At the time of writing, SCS was providing three helicopters and three aircraft registered in three different countries, through two different operators, in support of PMPF land-based operations in Somalia.”

Two of those helicopters hail from the South African Air Force – and, according to the report, appear to have been exported fraudulently.

“The Monitoring Group has identified two of the helicopters as being Aérospatiale Alouette III type 316 B, registered in South Africa under registration ZU-RFC and ZU-RFD. Purchased from the South African Air Force on 7 May 2010 by JA CAMPBELL, South African customs documentation indicates that they had been ‘temporarily exported’ from South Africa to the United Arab Emirates and then observed in the Seychelles on board the former Blackwater escort vessel, the MV Eaton, on 4 March 2011,” the report says.

It certainly is a profitable business: “The Monitoring Group has obtained official documentation revealing that approximately US$ 2 million have transited Lafras Luitingh’s corporate and personal bank accounts since the beginning of the SCS/Saracen International project in Somalia.”

During the course of the Monitoring Group’s mandate, this highly profitable business has expanded beyond the provision of armed escorts to the leasing of arms, ammunition and security equipment, and the establishment of ‘floating armouries’ that operate in international waters beyond the remit of any effective international regulatory authority. PMSCs are currently holding approximately 7,000 weapons in circulation, which are either owned or leased.

And yet various attempts by the Monitoring Group to reach the South African government for co-operation and clarification have been futile.

“The Monitoring Group is unaware of any action taken by the governments concerned to fulfil their obligations under resolution 1844 (2008) by preventing such activities,” the report says.

Most damning of this silence from the South African government is a query from the Monitoring Group about the mission of the South African Air Force in Somalia in the latter half of last year. “Data received by the Monitoring Group indicates that three military flights to Mogadishu, Somalia, were conducted by South African Air Force between August and October 2011, implicating one Lockheed C-130 Hercules and one Gulfstream III G3,” the report says.

“The Monitoring Group is unaware of any notification to the Committee concerning South African Air Force operations in Somalia, and on 26 April 2012 sent a letter to the Government of South Africa requesting clarification and additional information. No reply has been forthcoming.”

And yet the South African Air Force missions to Somalia last year were no secret – government had paired up with the Gift of the Givers charity to deliver aid to Somalia. The silence is beguiling.

This recalcitrance has prompted accusations that South Africa is shirking its responsibility to crack down on illicit mercenary activity, as required by South African law.

As the report rightly points out: “This is particularly disturbing with respect to South Africa, from which Saracen/SCS operations ultimately originate. The ‘Prohibition of Mercenary Activities and Regulation of Certain Activities in Country of Armed Conflict Act, 2006’ of the Republic of South Africa completely prohibits, in paragraph 2, any person to ‘participate as a combatant for private gain in an armed conflict’ or any person to ‘directly or indirectly recruit, use, train, support or finance a combatant for private gain in an armed conflict’ and applies to all South African citizens and residents.

“The Monitoring Group therefore urges the South African Government to determine not only whether SCS/Saracen’s activities may constitute a violation of applicable Security Council resolutions, but also whether they constitute potential violations of domestic South African law.”

The report, however, comes ready with recommendations. First up, the companies involved ought to face the full wrath of United Nations sanctions. “The Committee should proceed without delay to designate Sterling Corporate Services, Australian African Global Investments, and their affiliates, subsidiaries, owners and senior management for targeted measures,” the report says.

As for South Africa, the Monitoring Group recommends that the sanctions committee should urge the government of South Africa, as well as the United Arab Emirates, Uganda, Ethiopia, “to take all necessary steps to prevent the use of their ports and airports for activities in connection with technical assistance and training, financial and other assistance to military activities in Somalia in violation of Security Council resolutions 733 (1992), 1425 (2002) and 1844 (2009).”
Attempts to reach South Africa’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Baso Sanqo, to whom these queries were addressed, were unsuccessful. Deputy Director-General of the Department of International Relations and Co-Operation, Clayson Monyela, was also unavailable, but in his absence, Nelson Kgwete, Director of Media Liason at Dirco, withheld comment, saying Dirco was unaware of the claims made in the Monitoring Group’s report.

“We cannot comment until we see the report ourselves,” he said. DM

Photo: A fisherman carrying fish walk past buildings destroyed during the war near a port in Mogadishu June 30, 2012. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic


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