Somali Pirates Uncover Ukranian Arms Deal With Sudanese Rebels

Public domain US Navy photo of Somali pirates attacking the MV Faina in late September, 2008.

Wikileaks, Soviet tanks, Christian/animist rebels in Southern Sudan, Somali pirates, secret arms shipments, a diplomatic cover-up. You’re making this up just to get me all excited, right?

Apparently not; it’s all real, or what passes for it in African diplomatic circles. It goes like this:

Back in February, 2009, a Ukrainian ship, the Faina, was towed into Mombasa, Kenya after Somali pirates were paid $3.2 million in ransom for the ship and its cargo.

That’s business-as-usual for Somali pirates, but what was strange about the Faina is that its cargo included 32 Soviet T-72 tanks, 150 grenade launchers and 6 anti-aircraft guns. The cargo was destined for the regional government in southern Sudan, which is in open revolt against that nation’s government in Khartoum.

At the time, according to today’s New York Times article by Jeffrey Gettleman and Michael R. Gordon, both Ukraine and Kenya claimed the tanks were for the Kenyan Military. The Kenyans even went so far as to have a spokesperson tell the press “This is a big loss for us.”

That was a little white lie, apparently. Says the Times:

According to several secret State Department cables made public by WikiLeaks, the tanks not only were headed to southern Sudan, but they were the latest installment of several underground arms shipments. By the time the freighter was seized, 67 T-72 tanks had already been delivered to bolster southern Sudan’s armed forces against the government in Khartoum, an international pariah for its human rights abuses in Darfur.

Cables cited by the Times establish that the Bush administration government knew about the shipments, and the Obama administration protested only after the taking of the Faina made the shipments public. Furthermore:

The revelations about the tanks — the ones taken by the pirates are now sitting in Kenya, their fate unclear — come at one of the most delicate times in Sudan’s history, with the nation, Africa’s largest, on the verge of splitting into two. On Jan. 9, southern Sudanese are scheduled to vote in a referendum for their independence from northern Sudan, representing the end of a 50-year war. Huge quantities of weapons have been flowing to both sides, mainly to the north, turning the country into one of the most combustible on the continent…

…Southern Sudan, mostly Christian and animist, fought even before Sudan’s independence in 1956 to split with the Arab government in Khartoum. More than two million people were killed and government-sponsored militias, similar to those that raped and pillaged in Darfur, swept across the region, razing villages and massacring civilians. In 2005, the two sides signed a peace agreement, which granted the south autonomy and the right to vote on secession next year.

The agreement also allows southern Sudan to buy arms to transform its guerrilla army into a defense force, and the United States has also publicly said that it has provided communications and other “nonlethal” equipment and training to the southern army, called the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, or S.P.L.A. The cables suggest that effort has gone further than the United States has publicized.


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