Tanks on the move in weapons saga

The saga continues to unfold concerning the T-72 tanks that arrived in February after 4 months in the hands of Somali pirates.

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With the whole world convinced that Kenya was helping the government of Southern Sudan bust a United Nations arms embargo, the Kenya Army laid claim to the weapons. Top military commanders said that the tanks were part of an arms acquisition programme and that Kenyan crews had even been trained in use of the tanks.

Most analysts knew that it was only a matter of time before the tanks began the journey to their real destination: Southern Sudan. The predictions seem to have come true, with reports that a column of tanks has been seen in the northern Rift Valley province in the past week. This is where the highway to Sudan passes through.

Defence spokesman Bogita Ongeri, however denies claims that the tanks were heading to Southern Sudan. Instead, Bogita said that the tanks were being transported to participate in “military exercises” in the northern Rift Valley districts.

What makes the events interesting is a visit to Kenya by a top official of the Southern Sudan administration at around the same time. Rumours indicate that the Sudanese official had arrived to “inspect” the tanks. The Kenyan government, of course, denied the claims.

Despite repeated statements by the government, most people in Kenya are convinced that the tanks belong to Southern Sudan. Kenya traditionally sources its weapons from Western countries and shifting to Russian weaponry would signify a major shift in military strategy.

A ship carrying the 33 tanks was hijacked by Somali pirates in September 2008. If it wasn’t for the pirates, its highly likely that the weapons would have been in Sudan by now. After all, it was not the first time that Russian built tanks had been delivered to Mombasa in preceding months. The previous consignments were secretly shipped to Southern Sudan.

The ship, the MV Faina, was finally released in February 2009 after its owners paid millions of dollars as ransom to the Somali pirates holding it. The ship’s captain died during the 4 month captivity.

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