S African police find weapons bound for Somalia

Shipment of guns a violation of UN arms embargo; follows weeks of controversy over program to train anti-piracy forces in Somalia.

somalia boats pirates 248 (photo credit: AP ( British Ministry of Defence))
somalia boats pirates 248
(photo credit: AP ( British Ministry of Defence))
JOHANNESBURG — A shipment of guns apparently bound for Somali pirate hunters has been seized at a home in South Africa, police said Tuesday, in what appeared to be a violation of a UN arms embargo in the war-ravaged country.
South African authorities said they did not know who was importing the weapons, but the seizure follows weeks of speculation over a controversial program to train anti-piracy forces in Somalia.
The anarchic country's long coastline is dotted with pirates who prey on the vital shipping route, and millions of dollars are spent each day to maintain a coalition of international warships in the region.
Those involved with the controversial anti-piracy program, including an ex-CIA deputy station chief and a former US ambassador, have refused to say who is funding it. But they have repeatedly insisted no guns would be sent to Somalia in violation of the UN arms embargo.
South African police spokesman Vincent Mdunge said police had been tracking the shipment and that four people were arrested last week after the guns were traced to the house outside Durban in eastern South Africa. Two of the suspects were South Africans; he would not disclose the two foreigners' nationalities.
The shipment was comprised of eight assault rifles fitted with telescopic and silencing devices, two AK47s, two shot guns and a revolver.
"There could have been other firearms that are still lying about somewhere," Mdunge said.
The four suspects were freed on bail after their Dec. 23 arrest and are next to appear in court Feb. 7. Police were still trying to determine whether a port official helped move the weapons.
Mdunge would not name the shippers, but said investigators believe that the weapons were being sent to Somalia for use to fight pirates. It was unclear whether the shippers had the proper permits to send the weapons to Somalia, Mdunge said.
He said he did not know whether the weapons were being imported by a private company or the Somali government.
It is also unclear exactly where the weapons were destined, or what their relation might be to a private security contractor who is training 1,000 men for an anti-piracy force in Somalia's semi-autonomous northern region of Puntland.
US officials say it is unclear who is funding the initiative, what its objectives are and whether it breaks a UN arms embargo on Somalia.