Mystery plane lands in Somalia

Published July 27, 2006

MOGADISHU, July 26: A mystery cargo plane landed in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu on Wednesday and the interim government said it was carrying Eritrean weapon supplies for rival Islamists.

Residents reported seeing a medium-sized aircraft with no recognisable markings land at Mogadishu’s old international airport and unload large boxes. It was only the second plane to land there since newly-powerful Islamists reopened the airport days ago.

Onlookers and journalists were prevented from entering the area by hundreds of heavily-armed militiamen guarding the airport with dozens of battle-wagons.

“The plane was carrying anti-aircraft missiles and other weapons donated by Eritrea to the Islamists,” deputy prime minister Ismail Mohamed Hurre said from Baidoa, provincial base of the fragile transitional government.

“We condemn this, it will add more problems to Somalia,” he added, without citing evidence for the weapons claim.

Senior Islamists — who took Mogadishu from US-backed warlords in June and are in a standoff with the government that has raised fears of war — declined comment.

But one Islamist official said that instead of weapons, the plane had brought ‘small sewing machines, which were a gift from a friendly country’.

While the government alleges Eritrea is arming the Islamists, they say Ethiopian troops have poured into Somalia to protect President Abdullahi Yusuf’s government.

The United Nations has an arms embargo on Somalia. But it has been ignored for years, and the Horn of Africa nation of 10 million people is awash with light and heavy weaponry.

KHARTOUM TALKS: The plane controversy came as Islamist militia continued their expansion by taking over areas formerly controlled by defeated warlord Omar Finnish, residents said.

The Jilibmarka and Gandersi zones of southern Mogadishu included several natural ports and had been run by non-aligned, ‘freelance’ militia since Finnish was ousted, they said.—Reuters

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