U.N. mulls embargo on Liberian timber
Liberian ambassador says no trees-for-arms going on
By Gary Strieker
(CNN) -- The president of Liberia has been accused of using the timber resources of his West African nation for his personal profit, and to support rebels in nearby Sierra Leone.
In Liberia, raw timber is replacing diamonds as a source of finance for civil conflict, according to a panel of experts reporting to the United Nations' Security Council.
Earlier this year, the council imposed sanctions against the country based on evidence that its president Charles Taylor channeled money and weapons to rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone and profited as a broker for diamonds from the war zone.
The sanctions include a worldwide ban on imports of so-called "conflict diamonds." But critics say the sanctions are too limited, and now the panel of experts recommends adding an embargo on all imports of Liberian timber.
Most of the country's timber exports go to China and to Europe, where protesters have demanded action to stop the shipments, accusing Taylor and his associates of ransacking Liberia's forests.
In five years, the country's annual timber exports have risen from $5 million to more than $100 million. Investigators allege that Taylor uses the trade to enrich his own personal fortune and to provide cover for arms trafficking to assist Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in Sierra Leone.
Taylor's government denies the allegations.
"The whole question of using resources from the timber industry to provide arms for RUF is incorrect. The government totally rejects that," said Lami Kawah, Liberian Ambassador to the United Nations.
Conservationists say Liberia has the last remaining closed-canopy tropical rainforest in the region, and that unregulated logging is quickly destroying it.
They say it's impossible to calculate the impact of this destruction on Liberian wildlife, including the loss of habitats and species; and on the nation's people, who suffer from long-term effects like floods, droughts and climate change.
Supporters of the timber embargo say it's the only way to save Liberia's forests and to stop Taylor's financing of regional conflict.
But the Security Council has deferred action, saying it needs more time for further study.
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