Mauritania thwarts Mali arms smuggling attempt
By Raby Ould Idoumou for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 10/01/13
A special gendarme battalion in eastern Mauritania on Wednesday (January 2nd) thwarted an attempt to smuggle arms to a terrorist network in northern Mali.
Four Kalashnikovs that disappeared a month ago from a 5th Military Region depot were reportedly seized in Amat Lakarish, near Nema.
Weapons that disappeared from another site – the Bassiknou barracks near Mali – remain missing, reporter Rajel Oumar cited military sources as saying. Intelligence sources said they entered Mali later and that a search was still under way.
Armed groups are eager to obtain more weapons smuggled across Sahel countries, said Mohamed Ould Kaabash, a former officer in the 5th Military Region.
"Smuggling networks try to lure in military personnel to obtain equipment from Mauritanian military barracks," Ould Kaabash told Magharebia.
The smugglers behind the disappearance of arms from the Nema and Bassiknou barracks are part of a network with cells in eastern Mauritania and Mali, the former army officer confirmed.
During the investigation into the incident, a number of soldiers and officers of the 5th Military Region were arrested. Some were later released.
A Mauritanian officer training at the Ajrida military base near Nouakchott was also arrested in connection with the missing weapons.
The security operation came as part of efforts to counter the activities of Sahel smuggling networks that supply terrorist groups in northern Mali. The al-Qaeda linked Islamists are eager to secure weapons before West African troops intervene in Mali.
Meanwhile, the Mauritanian army opened an investigation in Aleg on January 1st to search for tank shells believed to have been lost from an armoured battalion in the area.
Fearing that more weapons might fall into the hands of terrorists, similar to what happened in Mali and Libya, NATO has already funded a 2.25 million euro military project to destroy stocks of weapons in Mauritania.
The project covers 1,800 tons of ammunition, including 141 man-portable air-defence systems (MANPADs) distributed over 20 arms depots in Mauritania, Taqadoumy reported January 3rd.
The proliferation of weapons on this scale and the previous smuggling operations in Larneb and Lemtara in northern Mali are a source of concern for the Mauritanian military, according to Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Cheyakh, a journalist specialising in eastern Mauritania issues.
Sheikh Mohamed Ould Harmah, an analyst and journalist at Sahara Media, said that the security approach adopted by the Mauritanian security agencies has improved.
These forces can now track and recover weapons that smugglers try to transfer to the Malian border, he said.
This effort is extremely important, he added, since there is a high demand for weapons from groups recruiting new fighters in northern Mali.
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