Thursday, April 17, 2014

Guinea blocks arms shipments to Mali as distrust grows

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Guinea has stopped the onward movement of the collection for fear that it could end up in the wrong hands.

Guinea has blocked a shipment of heavy weapons to Mali fearing they could end up in the wrong hands, Guinean and regional diplomats said on Thursday, a further sign of distrust between regional powers and Mali’s former junta.

The weeks-long weapons stand-off underscores a deep regional crisis as Mali’s neighbours and Western nations fear a new global security threat may be sprouting from the West African country, the News Agency of Nigeria reports.

Mali has seen a wave of instability since a military coup in 2011 that removed former President Amadou Toure, and helped inflame insurgency in the north.

Rebels dominated by Islamists – including al Qaeda – have taken over the north, and Mali’s military coup leaders, despite handing power to civilians in April, are widely suspected of pulling levers of power behind the scenes.

Mali’s military leadership this week said it opposed direct foreign intervention to regain control of the desert north, clashing publicly with the interim government which hours earlier had made a formal request for a regional force.

“ECOWAS wanted the constitutional crisis ended and a strong civilian government in place before they released the weapons. They didn’t want to reinforce the junta,” a regional diplomat said.

Abdoul Kabele Camara, Guinea’s deputy defense minister, confirmed weapons shipment to land-locked Mali had been blocked as the government did not know who in Mali should receive them, but said there were talks over their release.

A source monitoring international arms shipments said that about 20 BTR-60 armoured personnel carriers (APCs), ordered by ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure, were being blocked onboard a ship that had sailed from Bulgaria.

Bakary Mariko, a spokesman for Mali’s CNRDRE former junta, blamed ECOWAS and the AU for Guinea’s freezing of the shipment, which he said included about a dozen APCs.

He said a shipment of 1,000 light arms had also been blocked at the Senegalese port of Dakar.

ECOWAS has not made an official statement, but a foreign ministry official from a member state said the group had been waiting for a proper authority to receive the weapons.

“The army elements of the junta did not represent the state,’’ he said, adding that Malian and ECOWAS officials were now in the country working to release the weapons.

After months of uncertainty, Mali’s interim leader this week officially requested military assistance from West Africa’s ECOWAS bloc to tackle its crises.

But the ex-junta, led by Capt.  Amadou Sanogo, still appears against the intervention of foreign soldiers.

Mali’s military cited the poor handling of the insurgency as the cause of its coup but has made little effort to retake the north, and has been regularly accused of meddling in politics.

NAN/Reuters

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