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Hijacked Ship Linked To Sudan
By Barney Jopson
Nairobi , September 30, 2008 – A pirate attack on a ship transporting military tanks off the coast of Somalia has connected two of Africa 's worst conflict zones by throwing a spotlight on the south Sudanese army's rearmament programme.
Kenya has said the 33 Russian-made tanks on board the hijacked vessel were destined for its own armed forces, but its claims have been challenged by several sources who said they were to be transported through Kenya to south Sudan .
Last week's seizure of the Ukraine-registered ship, the MV Faina, was the most brazen attack yet by pirates who have this year made the Gulf of Aden and the seas around Somalia the most dangerous in the world.
The piracy is fuelled by the anarchy in Somalia , a failed state where criminality is thriving as a weak interim government struggles to establish its authority.
The ability of pirates to halt a big intercontinental shipment of military hardware has highlighted the potential for the instability in Somalia to have broader international consequences.
Andrew Mwangura, of the East Africa Seafarers Assistance Programme, which monitors piracy in the region, said the pirates claimed to have found documents showing the T-72 tanks were destined for south Sudan . They have demanded a ransom of $20m ( € 14bn, £11bn) for the ship, its cargo and crew.
An African military official working in south Sudan and a government adviser in Khartoum said the south was in the midst of a big rearmament programme ahead of an election next year before independence due in 2011.
South Sudanese rebels signed a peace deal with the Khartoum government in 2005 after decades of civil war.
But some members of the southern government fear that because the south has most of Sudan 's oil reserves the north will not allow it to secede.
Kenya , which helped broker the 2005 peace deal, has denied it is an arms conduit. A spokesman for SPLA also denied any link to the tanks. But Byor Ajang, an army officer, was quoted by Sudanese radio saying the army had the right to import weapons from anywhere without the consent of the government in the north.
A logistics expert in Kenya said that earlier this year another large shipment of tanks had been sent by rail from the Kenyan port of Mombassa to the town of Eldoret, then transported north by road into south Sudan.
For a second day yesterday several US warships were monitoring activity on the hijacked boat, which was anchored several miles off the Somali coast. The US navy released photographs showing new pirates arriving in speedboats to reinforce their allies on the ship.
"We are not going to allow the offloading of any cargo from the ship," said a spokesman for the US Fifth Fleet.
Source: The Financial Times