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Nigeria arms seizure causes alarm

Arms shipment found in Nigeria loaded in Iran: firm
Lagos (AFP) Oct 29, 2010 - An illegal arms shipment including rockets and grenades discovered in Nigeria this week was loaded in Iran by an Iranian trader, the firm that operates the vessel that delivered it said on Friday. Security agents this week intercepted 13 containers declared as building materials and discharged from the CMA CGM Everest vessel at the country's busiest port of Apapa in Nigeria's economic hub of Lagos. "The shipment in question was booked as a 'shippers owned container' and supplied loaded and sealed by the shipper, an Iranian trader who does not appear on any 'forbidden persons' listing," said CMA CGM, which operates the Marshall Islands-flagged vessel. CMA CGM, based in France, said the containers were loaded in Bandar Abbas, a southern port city of Iran, and discharged in Lagos in July.

But last week the shipper asked to have the containers reloaded and sent to the Gambia, a tiny west African country wedged inside Senegal, according to the firm. Clearance had been obtained before Nigerian customs intervened and halted the shipment, according to CMA CGM. Iranian embassy officials in Nigeria refused to comment, saying a statement would be issued later. A Nigerian intelligence agency spokeswoman has said authorities were on heightened alert following October 1 twin car bombings in the capital that killed at least 12 people. Ten of the containers opened so far contain an array of weaponry, customs spokesman Wale Adeniyi said, despite being declared as building materials.

CMA CGM said it has been cleared of any involvement in the illegal shipment and called itself the "victim of (a) false cargo declaration." Two people have reportedly been arrested in connection with the cargo, but security officials have not confirmed the reports. Authorities have publicly refused to speculate on the origins or destination of the shipment, coming just months before presidential elections, but have heightened port security. "Certainly security at the ports has been beefed up and we are trying to move up ahead ... and tighten our own systems to block such shipments," Adeniyi told AFP. Regarding paperwork for the shipment that contained the weapons, Adeniyi said "the documents were irregular... and we felt that the names given on them were false." Precise quantities of the weapons will be known after all the containers are opened, he said.

So far, the 10 examined contained "similar contents -- mortars, grenades, light ammunition and of course tiles," said Adeniyi. The ship's last port of call before arriving in Nigeria was India's Jawaharlal Nehru port near Mumbai, the customs service has said. The vessel berthed in the Nigerian port on July 10 and sailed out on July 15. Illegal weapons are widespread in Nigeria, and the discovery has sparked fresh concerns with presidential elections set to be held early next year. Ballots have frequently been tainted by violence in the oil-rich nation. Militants in the Niger Delta, the country's main oil-producing region, have carried out scores of attacks there in recent years. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the country's most prominent militant group, claimed the October 1 car bombings. A series of attacks have also been carried out by suspected members of an Islamist sect, known as Boko Haram, in the country's north in recent months.
by Staff Writers
Lagos, Nigeria (UPI) Oct 29, 2010
Nigerian authorities say they discovered a large shipment of weapons, including 107mm rockets, at Nigeria's busiest port, further evidence that conflict-wracked Africa remains a magnet for the illicit arms business.

Nigeria, with 150 million people it's Africa's most populous nation, is in the grip of political turmoil caused by rivalry between political barons in the north and south, with a potentially violent presidential election scheduled for January.

In the oil-rich south, tribal insurgents are threatening an all-out offensive against the country's all-important oil industry as a 2009 peace initiative founders.

In the unruly central region, Muslim and Christian militants are slaughtering each other. There are fears al-Qaida, active in North Africa and the Horn of Africa, may seek to infiltrate the oil-rich region.

The arms found in Lagos, on Africa's Atlantic coast, were hidden in 13 sealed shipping containers that arrived by sea in July. But the contents weren't discovered until the State Security Service broke open the containers Tuesday.

It wasn't clear whether the weapons were intended for an armed group in Nigeria or were to be shipped somewhere else in Africa or to another part of the globe.

But Wale Adenyi of Nigeria's Customs Service said Thursday "there have been some attempts to clear them" for importation into the country. He gave no other details but that suggested the shipment was destined for delivery in Nigeria.

None of the armed groups involved in fighting in Nigeria are known to have used battlefield rockets like the 107mm weapons found in Lagos so if these were to be used in Nigeria, it would mark a dangerous escalation in the level of violence, particularly with the presidential election looming closer.

The conflicts in Nigeria aren't, so far, full-fledged wars, like the 1967-70 civil war in Biafra in which hundreds of thousands died, but other African states are being ravaged by large-scale hostilities.

Kenya, which faces being dragged into the seemingly endless war in neighboring Somalia, is seeking to buy arms from Israel in hopes of securing the support of the Jewish state's military expertise in countering the jihadist threat there.

That fits in neatly with Israel's own efforts to boost military sales in strife-torn Africa, particularly among the energy-rich states like Nigeria and Angola.

In September, U.S. federal prosecutors said the defense minister of the West African state of Ivory Coast, Michael Amani N'Guessan, was involved in a plot to smuggle weapons from the United States in defiance of a U.N. arms embargo.

The minister and others implicated in the $3.8 million plot claimed diplomatic immunity to shield them from prosecution. But his front man, Col. N'Guessan Yao, who allegedly brokered the deal in the United States for 4,000 9mm Glock handguns, 200,000 rounds of ammunition and other arms, was indicted in California Sept. 30.

Minister N'Guessan and other government officials in the former French colony had made little effort to hide their involvement. They claim the country's security forces need the weapons to ensure that presidential elections were conducted peacefully.

Ivory Coast was torn by civil war from 2002 until May 2007, when U.N. peacekeepers were deployed. The United Nations imposed an arms embargo after the government broke a peace agreement in 2004.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, which has some of the world's richest mineral deposits, has been gripped by a 15-year war that involves half a dozen states.

Uganda has been plagued by a brutal rebellion by the Lord's Resistance Army for two decades. Eritrea and Ethiopia are fighting a proxy war in the Ogaden region.

Angola and Sudan were ravaged by long civil wars until recently but Muslim Sudan now faces a secession by its Christian and animist south in the months ahead and both sides are reported to be rearming.

Forecast International, a Connecticut consultancy that provides market intelligence on defense and aerospace, noted recently that Africa "is host to a dynamic arms market polarized by broad economic disparities and myriad security challenges."

Forecast International said the northern tier of African states, particularly Algeria, have eclipsed South Africa as "the region's most active, and thus most lucrative, arms market."

African states spent around $18 billion on defense in 2008, a 7.7 percent increase over 2007, the consultancy said.

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