UN questions Sierra Leone arms purchase before vote

Fri Mar 23, 2012 6:09am GMT

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Sierra Leone's government should explain why it bought millions of dollars worth of assault weapons to equip a recently enlarged paramilitary wing of its police as the country prepares for elections in November, the outgoing U.N. envoy said on Thursday.

Michael von der Schulenburg told the U.N. Security Council that according to a leaked shipping document the weapons bought by the West African state in January included heavy machine guns and grenade launchers and the purchase was "of great concern."

"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," he said.

He urged the government to clarify the weapons shipment and explain the intended use of the arms.

Schulenburg left Sierra Leone in February, saying that his posting had been cut short by the United Nations under pressure from Sierra Leone's President Ernest Bai Koroma in a move that Schulenburg said would be seen as "opening the door to manipulating the election outcome in his favor."

A spokesman for Koroma denied asking the United Nations to remove the outspoken Schulenburg.

Philip Parham, deputy U.N. ambassador for Britain, which this month holds the U.N. Council's rotating presidency, said the 15-nation panel would reflect on Schulenburg's departure.

He told reporters the council would also discuss the issue with the U.N. Secretariat "to ensure that as far as possible we avoid any sense that a host government can have a veto over the leadership of a U.N. mission for reasons that are not valid."   Continued...

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