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Nigeria arms seizure causes alarm

Oct. 29, 2010 at 1:18 PM   |   Comments

LAGOS, Nigeria, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- 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.

© 2010 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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