Who gets Qaddafi's cash? African nations crushed by wars he funded want some.
Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi trained and funded men - like Charles Taylor - whose reigns of terror in Liberia and Sierra Leone led to the death of hundreds of thousands of West Africans.
Freetown, Sierra Leone
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said earlier this month that those funds should be used â€śto help the Libyan people,â€ť and Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts says he is already at work on the legislation that will make that happen.
But here in West Africa â€“ where rebels who were trained, funded, and armed by Colonel Qaddafi terrorized citizens for much of the 1990s â€“ some people are saying that a chunk of that money should be set aside for them.
â€śOver a million Sierra Leoneans and Liberians were killed as a result of the Qaddafi-induced war,â€ť wrote Kofi Akosah-Sarpong, an editor at the London-based Newstime Africa dailyâ€™s website earlier this week. â€śNow is the time for them to get their compensations direct from Qaddafiâ€™s looted billions.â€ť
Qaddafi's role in Liberia and Sierra Leone
Qaddafiâ€™s ties to the region date back to the 1980s, when he was looking to spread his influence across Africa and break off the continentâ€™s ties to the West. He was rumored to have been incensed by Liberiaâ€™s cozy relationship with the Reagan administration under Samuel Doe, and by the Western-friendly stance of Sierra Leoneâ€™s then-president Joseph Momoh.
So the Libyan leader invited some young, radical-thinking West Africans to visit his â€śWorld Revolutionary Center,â€ť a training camp outside the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi that the historian Stephen Ellis has called the â€śHarvard and Yale of a whole generation of African revolutionaries.â€ť There they learned how to deploy weapons and gather intelligence, and they were immersed in anti-Western ideology.
Charles Taylor â€“ the former Liberian president who reigned over six years of terror in his own country and who is now on trial for his role in Sierra Leoneâ€™s civil war â€“ trained at Qaddafiâ€™s center in the 1980s. So did Foday Sankoh, the leader of Sierra Leoneâ€™s main rebel group. Qaddafi supported both men with money and weapons after they had returned home from their training. The people of Sierra Leone and Liberia suffered the consequences.
â€śThe idea of compensation is not far-fetched,â€ť says David Crane, the original chief prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, a UN-backed body that was set up to â€śtry those who bear greatest responsibilityâ€ť for the countryâ€™s civil war.
â€ś[Compensation] is called for in the statute that created the [Special] Court,â€ť Mr. Crane says. â€śIt is certainly worth filing that claim on behalf of the people of Sierra Leone.â€ťHe adds that Qaddafiâ€™s â€śpolitical involvementâ€ť in the countryâ€™s conflict â€śwas obvious and clear.â€ť
Compensation for the casualties
West Africans donâ€™t need to be told twice. Jesmed Suma, the Executive Director of the NGO Sierra Leone Policy Watch, calls Qaddafi a â€śterrorist kingpinâ€ť who needs to be brought to account.
â€śIf Qaddafi paid about $1.5 billion for his role in the Lockerbie bombing that took the lives of about 270 victims, then it would not be unreasonable to ask for $5 billion for the lives of about 200,000 (according to many estimates) Sierra Leoneans,â€ť he says, stressing that that view is his own, not that of his organization.
Mr. Suma hopes to put together a legal team to fight for the claim.
â€śWith basic funding, I believe victory is very likely,â€ť he says.