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 Tuesday, 14 January, 2003, 19:10 GMT
Lebanon seizes 'Iraq-bound' cargo
File photo of Beirut airport
The consignment was flown from Minsk on Sunday
Security officials in Lebanon say they have seized military equipment from Belarus which was to be smuggled into Iraq, in defiance of a United Nations ban.

The foreign ministry of Belarus rules out the possibility of delivery of dual-use items to Iraq

Belarusian foreign ministry
Authorities at Beirut International Airport said about 12 tons of cargo, including helmets and tank radio kits, arrived on a flight from the Belarusian capital, Minsk, on Sunday night.

They said the cargo was to be sent overland across Syria to Iraq.

Two Lebanese nationals listed as the importers have been detained for questioning.

Both Belarus and Iraq have denied any involvement in the shipment, which, if confirmed, would breach a United Nations arms embargo.

The BBC's Steven Eke says Belarus, which has close trading links with Iraq, has often featured in Western reports on potential sources of contraband equipment and expertise for Baghdad.

'Unusual label'

Officials at Beirut airport are reported to have become suspicious at the unusual labelling of a large consignment from Belarus.

The contents was declared to be "Head Protectors".

A check of the boxes showed they contained 600 helmets for tank crew and 240 wireless communication sets.

Military uniforms were also seized, officials said.

Lebanese court sources said charges were pending against the two men, suspected of illegally importing the equipment.

Under Lebanese law, only the state can import military gear.

Embargo 'followed'

Officials from both Belarus and Iraq denied any involvement in the affair.

Belarusian demonstrators carry a picture of President Lukashenka
Opponents say Belarus President Lukashenka is too close to Saddam Hussein

An Iraqi diplomat in Beirut told the Associated Press news agency that Baghdad had no links with the equipment.

In Minsk, a spokesman for the Belarusian foreign ministry stressed that his country adhered strictly to the UN embargo on equipment which could have a military use.

"The foreign ministry of Belarus rules out the possibility of delivery of dual-use items to Iraq," Andrei Savinykh said.

"Belarus strictly follows accepted international norms in dual-use items."

Route identified

But our correspondent says that domestic opponents of the Belarusian President, Alexander Lukashenka, have long accused the country's leadership of clandestine links with Iraq.

He says that last year the former defence minister said Minsk was helping President Saddam Hussein with weapons components, training and maintenance.

The former minister added that Belarus could not ship complete weapons systems, but singled out Lebanon as the route he believed was being used to deliver arms to Iraq.

President Lukashenka, shunned by much of the world over his government's alleged human rights abuses, has boasted of his close ties with Baghdad.

Our correspondent says that the latest incident is unlikely to boost Belarus' efforts to encourage the United States and the European Union to lift travel bans on senior Belarusian officials.


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22 Jun 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
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