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Drillbits & Tailings: August 21, 1997: Page Two

Sierra Leone Titanium Mine and Mercenaries
The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank's private sector arm, is considering a new 17.3 million dollar loan for the operators of the world's largest rutile (titanium dioxide ore) mine in Sierra Leone who have previously used mercenaries to oust local rebels.

Sierra Rutile, the Ohio-based operators of the mine, is currently in default to several international banks for about 20 million dollars in previous loans, which it has been unable to repay since the mine was shut down by civil war in January 1995. These banks include the World Bank, the London-based Commonwealth Development Corporation and two U.S. federal agencies -- the Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

In an effort to get its sole operation up and running again Sierra Rutile has helped finance two mercenary interventions in Sierra Leone to wipe out the armed opposition allowing civilian rule to briefly return to the country.

The first intervention occurred in early 1995 when Sierra Rutile called in a company named Gurkha Security Guards led by Robert MacKenzie, the son-in-law of former CIA assistant director Ray Cline. Unfortunately MacKenzie was killed in an ambush and the Gurkhas refused to take offensive action, which was forbidden under their contract.

In April 1995 Sierra Rutile teamed up with a British company named Branch Energy, which is now controlled by Diamond Works, to bring in a South African mercenary outfit called Executive Outcomes to the country with the blessing of Valentine Strasser, the military ruler of Sierra Leone.

Once in country, Executive Outcomes employed traditional Sierra Leonian witchcraft hunters as scouts and brought in two of South Africa's most highly decorated air force pilots. The pilots initially had difficulty distinguishing between the rebels and civilians camped under the impenetrable canopy of vines and trees, but when the Sierra Leone military commander told them to ''kill everybody'' they obeyed orders according to accounts of the operation published in Harper's magazine. About a year later the new Sierra Leonian government terminated the Executive Outcomes contract, under pressure from the International Monetary Fund, and was promptly overthrown in a coup. Reports indicate that a third intervention is now being planned. Last month Tim Spicer of Sandline International met with investors in Vancouver, Canada, to discuss ''strategy, logistics and training'' to ''convert 40,000 militia into an effective fighting force'' in Sierra Leone.

Sandline is controlled by minerals speculators Robert Friedland and Anthony Buckingham, the two principal investors in Diamond Works, a mining company with extensive interests in Sierra Leone, who were also instrumental in the 1995 mercenary interventions. Sandline were also responsible for the botched attempt to retake Bougainville, in the South Pacific, by mercenaries earlier this year.

In the meantime Sierra Rutile has been struggling to raise new money. Last year the company raised 10 million dollars in new funds from Jean-Raymond Boulle after he made 800 million dollars selling indigenous lands in Voisey's Bay, Canada, to Inco, the nickel multinational. This year Sierra Rutile is hoping to get more cash from the World Bank for a proposal that ostensibly seeks to expand capacity at the rutile mine from 150,000 tonnes per day to 220,000 tonnes per day.

The loan proposal has been condemned by Friends of the Earth US which says that the company has violated Bank resettlement and environmental guidelines. Some 5300 people have been moved for the mine, 6,400 acres of land have been flooded and 7.4 million tonnes of mining waste are dumped in the local region every month.

But Bank officers are very effusive about the proposal. ''It's a wonderful rutile deposit and it has good sponsorship,'' IFC investment officer Navied Burney told Inter Press Service. He refused to comment on Lifeguard, the Executive Outcomes subsidiary in Sierra Leone.

SOURCES: Friends of the Earth US review for Sierra Rutile Limited, July 20, 1997, "An Army of One's Own," Harper's magazine, Feburary 1997, "Mined Out" Friends of the Earth UK. "World Bank Ponders Loan to Sierra Leone mine,"Inter Press Service, August 14, 1997.

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