Timber and West African civil wars

Timber and West African civil wars On 24 April 2006, Dutch timber dealer, Guus van Kouwenhoven went on trial at the International Court of Justice, Hague, The Netherlands, on charges of war crimes against the people of Liberia. Also in the dock is Charles Taylor, Liberia's dictator between 1997 and 2003. Regarded an international pariah for much of his rule, Taylor battled un embargoes to preside over a regime that made Liberia the one-stop arms supermarket for insurgent groups in much of West Africa. Neighbouring Sierra Leone was particularly brutalised: Taylor fomented civil war there by arming a insurgent group, the Revolutionary United Front (ruf). The traffic was, for the most, part driven by timber and van Kouwenhoven was among the most significant players.

The Dutch appeared on the Liberian scene in the late 1980s. His business then was gambling and hotels.During the turbulent 1980s, van Kouwenoven's hotel on the outskirts of Liberia's capital, Monrovia, was amongst the swankier places to be, frequented by President Samuel Doe, among others. But by the 1990s, its heyday had long passed. Van Kouwenhoven moved to other pastures. When then rebel leader, Taylor began to dominate Liberia's political scene, the Dutchman switched allegiance. "If you do business in Africa, you have no choice but to be on good terms with those in power,' he told a Dutch weekly later. Van Kouwenhoven also changed business, acquiring interests in several logging companies, including the largest timber firm in Liberia, the Oriental Timber Company (otc), based in the port city, Buchanan. By 1999, he headed the company.


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Van Kouwenhoven also became part of the notorious clique around Taylor that included Ukranian timber merchant and arms dealer, Leonid Minik, and Sanjivan Ruprah, a Kenyan businessman of Indian extract. They ran the arms and timber traffic with military-like efficiency.

otc was the biggest player in the operations. In 1999, the company signed a deal with Taylor, which allowed them to extract timber from "concession areas' in South Liberia's forests. Van Kouwenhoven subsequently acquired concessions which gave otc control over a third of Liberia's forests (see map: A Dutch businessman in Taylor's fiefdom). The deal also gave otc complete control over Buchanan. It was later revealed that the company paid Taylor us $5 million up-front, quite likely in exchange for tax-exemption and exclusion from regulations.

Road control The 1999 deal secured otc a contract to build roads in Buchanan and Monrovia. The company executed the job with clinical efficiency. For a place collapsing into ruin, the roads were surprisingly well-maintained. They had to be. The roads were critical to Taylor's