Controversy persists over destination of seized arms cargo

12:28, 30 September 2008
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Kenya or Sudan?

A controversy surrounding the destination of the hijacked military hardware along the coast of Somalia still persists as Kenya maintained that the armory belongs to the east African nation, Xinhua reported.

    Local media, the Standard, reported on Tuesday a diplomatic row appeared imminent as Kenya and the United States differed over the destination of military hardware hijacked by pirates off the Somali coast.

    Lt. Nathan Christensen, deputy spokesman for the U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, said although the cargo headed for Kenya`s port of Mombasa "additional reports state the cargo was intended for Sudan."

    The navy officer said in Bahrain the shipment headed for Sudan, but proclaimed "its buyers are not known." Christensen`s statement did not name which part of Sudan the weapons were headed for.

    However, the Kenyan military claimed the equipment belongs to them. "Let none purport to speak for us. The weapons belong to the Kenyan military and even the Ukrainian government have documents to show that," military spokesman Bogita Ongeri said.

    Ongeri said the Department of Defense has documents to show the cargo belongs to them. "It is the property of the Government of Kenya and we have documentation to that effect," said Ongeri.

    The spokesman refuted the reports attributed to a U.S. Navy spokesman who had said the cargo headed for Sudan, not Kenya.

    The U.S. Navy`s position has been backed by a regional maritime official who has maintained that the military cargo was destined for south Sudan which is currently under the UN arms embargo.

    Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers` Assistance Program said the Somali pirates claim to be in possession of confidential documents showing that the arms were actually destined for southern Sudan, not Kenya.

    Mwangura said that the hijacked ship, MV Faina, was ferrying the fourth such consignment from Ukraine to southern Sudan.

    "One of the cargo arrived at the port of Mombasa in October last year, two in February this year. The seized load of 33 Russian-built T-72 tanks and some ammunition was the fourth cargo with military equipment for southern Sudan," Mwangura told Xinhua by telephone.

    The ship MV Faina, loaded with tanks and weapons, was seized on Thursday not far from its destination port of Mombasa, Kenya.

    The pirates have warned against any attempt to rescue the crew or cargo of the ship. But the Kenyan government has cast doubt on the report, saying it had not been issued with ransom demands.

    The east African nation said it would not negotiate, and said efforts to recover the hijacked ship and its cargo would continue.

    "The Kenyan government, together with its security partners, has established that the ship has not yet docked at any port and is still at sea," said a statement from government spokesman Alfred Mutua.

    Mutua`s denial came as several high-level security meetings were held in Nairobi to discuss the issue on Monday.

    The issue also came as civil society organizations have demanded the government to explain why it would spend so much on military equipment, when it is struggling to help refugees from the post-election violence.

    According to the Standard, Sudanese Ambassador to Kenya Guangdong Majok reportedly visited the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Nairobi late on Monday apparently to discuss the escalating saga.

    The Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement, through spokesman Jervasia Okot, issued a statement denouncing the claims that the former rebels imported the weapons with the assistance from Kenya.

    Their statement coincided with the brief visit on Monday to Nairobi by southern Sudan`s regional minister, Barnabas Marial, before returning to Juba.

    In addition, Kenyan Assistant Defense Minister Joseph Nkaissery said the military was prepared to deal with the pirates "in any possible way."

    "The government is doing all possible to make sure that the ship, cargo and crew are rescued," he said.

    Nkaissery, however, said there was need to ensure that the country`s navy was armed and well-funded to curb such cases.


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