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Page last updated at 14:49 GMT, Wednesday, 8 October 2008 15:49 UK

Kenya dismisses tanks 'evidence'

Contract numbers include the initials GOSS, thought to be government of South Sudan.

A Kenyan minister has denied BBC reports that the tanks seized by Somali pirates were bound for South Sudan.

According to the cargo's manifest, obtained by the BBC, the contract included the phrase "GOSS", widely used to mean the Government Of South Sudan.

But Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula said it meant General Ordinance Supplies and Security and that this was a code for the department of defence.

He also said force should be used to rescue the weapons from the pirates.

He said Kenya would send warships to join the US and Russian ships surrounding the Ukrainian vessel, MV Faina, which is still moored off the Somali coast.

Last week, the Somali government said the ship's owners were involved in direct negotiations with the pirates, who are demanding a $20m (11m) ransom.

Map of Kenya and Sudan

Kenya has always insisted that the military hardware was destined for its army but refused to comment on the BBC evidence on Tuesday.

Officials in Ukraine have also denied that GOSS stands for South Sudan but military and diplomatic sources insist that it does.

The BBC's Karen Allen in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, says that although the import of military hardware to Sudan is not illegal, if the weapons were being passed on, it would put Kenya in a tight spot diplomatically as Kenya helped broker an end to the civil war between South Sudan and the government in Khartoum in 2005.

But Francis Nazario, head of South Sudan's mission in Brussels, said he had seen the manifest and it did not prove anything.

"What I know is that we have nothing at all to do with the content of this ship, and the ship was not heading for South Sudan," he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

"I think if there was anything like that we would not hide it because constitutionally we have the right to do so, to bring arms from anywhere."

Military balance

On Tuesday, a Kenyan court granted bail to Andrew Mwangura, a spokesman for the Kenyan chapter of the Seafarers' Assistance Programme, who had been arrested after he said the tanks were bound for South Sudan.

Hijacked MV Faina, 29 September 2008
The pirates want a $20m ransom for the MV Faina and its valuable cargo

Mr Mwangura was charged with making alarming statements and illegal possession of marijuana.

However, he has not yet raised the 200,000 shillings, ($2,700) and so he is still in custody.

Last week, Western military experts told the BBC that the tanks on board the MV Faina were going to Sudan and that the shipment indicated an arms race between northern and southern Sudan had begun.

They are reported to both be building up their forces ahead of a referendum on independence for the South in 2011.

The military experts, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a previous delivery of tanks had taken place last November.


SEE ALSO
Life in Somalia's pirate town
18 Sep 08 |  Africa
Country profile: Somalia
18 Jun 08 |  Country profiles

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