SA conduit for riot gear for Madagascar?

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WikiLeaks has revealed South Africa helped Madagascar’s ousted president to import crowd control weapons before he lost power. The Sunday Independent newspaper reported that a leaked United States state department document showed that South Africa was used as a trans-shipment point for riot control equipment, including grenades, rubber bullets and teargas.

The cable originated from the US embassy in Madagascar. It claimed that the Chinese-manufactured part of the arsenal was unloaded in South Africa and collected by then President Marc Ravalomanana’s private jet. This arrangement enabled him to bypass customs. From South Africa, the weapons went to parts of the army loyal to the ex-president in his home country.

According to the leaked document, security forces had not received proper training on the use of the equipment. “It is doubtful the security forces properly understand how to effectively use rubber bullets in a crowd control situation,” it was noted in the document. Ill-trained units would no doubt continue to fire their weapons towards the upper body portion of crowds increasing the risk of head shots with lethal consequences.”

Ravalomanana has lived in exile in South Africa since he was ousted by a popularly supported military coup in 2009, the Sunday paper says. Madagascar’s current leader Andry Rajoelina has accused his ousted rival of corruption.

The newspaper reported that — according to the document — South Africa’s National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) failed to stop or supervise the movement of the weapons. “For between a year and 18 months [following Jacob Zuma’s election as president] the oversight body was in serial dereliction of its legislative mandate to meet monthly to scrutinise planned weapons transfers.” Individual officials apparently signed off deals without securing the committee’s approval.

The opposition Democratic Alliance party (DA) says NCACC chair Jeff Radebe “should immediately authorise an investigation into the report. He notes that part of the cable, dated March 4, 2009 reads: “Recognising that his security forces lacked proper riot control gear, the President [Marc Ravalomanana] has embarked on a buying spree of riot control gear from suppliers in China, using South Africa as a transit point. On at least two separate occasions, confirmed by RSO airport police contacts, the President has utilised his company’s privately owned aircraft, an ATR 42-320 registration #5R-MJT and affectionately named TIKO Air, to fly to South Africa to pick up much needed riot control gear (shields, body armor, tear gas, rubber bullets, and uniforms) for his security forces. Bypassing the cumbersome customs bureaucracy, the aircraft arrives at Ivato International’s military section where it is unloaded and hauled off by military trucks for their immediate deployment to the security forces making up the EMMO-Nat (Etat-Major Mixte Operationnel au Niveau National) units. Comment: EMMO-Nat forces are made up of Malagasy military elements, Gendarmerie, and National Police operating under a mixed command and used as a quick reaction force.”

The NCACC is required to authorise the transport of any conventional arms through or over our territory or territorial waters by issuing a conveyance permit. “However, the NCACC’s 2009 annual report shows that no conveyance permits were issued. This suggests that former president Marc Ravalomanana’s attempt to import riot control gear, using South Africa as a transit point, may have been illegal,” Maynier says. “This is not the only suspicious sale of conventional arms prior to the coup in Madagascar in 2009. The NACC also authorised the sale of R2 347 000 worth of riot control equipment to Madagascar in 2009. The arms deal was authorised in record time and on an ad hoc basis by the NCACC. The riot control gear appears to have been exported to military or paramilitary forces just prior to the coup in Madagascar. There was therefore a high probability that the riot control gear would be used for internal repression. The fact is that the NCACC should never have authorised the export of riot control equipment to Madagascar,” Maynier says.



Meanwhile, there is still no sign of South Africa’s 2010 and 2011 arms imports and exports declaration to the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms. Also seemingly missing is the NCACC’s 2010 and 2011 annual as well as quarterly reports to Parliament.