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.

ZUMA Press/File/Newscom
In this April 11 file photo, Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi cheers from his car after meeting with a delegation from the African Union, who were in Libya to try to negotiate a truce between his forces and rebels seeking to oust him.

Western governments have seized more than $30 billion of Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s assets since the Libyan leader launched the first attacks against his own citizens in February.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said earlier this month that those funds should be used “to help the Libyan people,” 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 – where rebels who were trained, funded, and armed by Colonel Qaddafi terrorized citizens for much of the 1990s – some people are saying that a chunk of that money should be set aside for them.

“Over a million Sierra Leoneans and Liberians were killed as a result of the Qaddafi-induced war,” wrote Kofi Akosah-Sarpong, an editor at the London-based Newstime Africa daily’s website earlier this week. “Now is the time for them to get their compensations direct from Qaddafi’s looted billions.”

Qaddafi's role in Liberia and Sierra Leone

Qaddafi’s ties to the region date back to the 1980s, when he was looking to spread his influence across Africa and break off the continent’s ties to the West. He was rumored to have been incensed by Liberia’s cozy relationship with the Reagan administration under Samuel Doe, and by the Western-friendly stance of Sierra Leone’s then-president Joseph Momoh.

So the Libyan leader invited some young, radical-thinking West Africans to visit his “World Revolutionary Center,” a training camp outside the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi that the historian Stephen Ellis has called the “Harvard and Yale of a whole generation of African revolutionaries.” There they learned how to deploy weapons and gather intelligence, and they were immersed in anti-Western ideology.

Charles Taylor – 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 Leone’s civil war – trained at Qaddafi’s center in the 1980s. So did Foday Sankoh, the leader of Sierra Leone’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.

“The idea of compensation is not far-fetched,” says David Crane, the original chief prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, a UN-backed body that was set up to “try those who bear greatest responsibility” for the country’s civil war.

“[Compensation] is called for in the statute that created the [Special] Court,” Mr. Crane says. “It is certainly worth filing that claim on behalf of the people of Sierra Leone.”He adds that Qaddafi’s “political involvement” in the country’s conflict “was obvious and clear.”

Compensation for the casualties

West Africans don’t need to be told twice. Jesmed Suma, the Executive Director of the NGO Sierra Leone Policy Watch, calls Qaddafi a “terrorist kingpin” who needs to be brought to account.

“If 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,” 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.

“With basic funding, I believe victory is very likely,” he says.

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