THE LONDON FINANCIAL TIMES
UN seeks to confirm Belarus reports
By Harvey Morris at the United Nations
Published: February 28 2011 15:10 | Last updated: March 1 2011 11:21
The UN was trying to confirm reports that Belarus was supplying three attack helicopters to one of the opposing factions in Ivory Coast, in violation of an international arms embargo.
A statement on Sunday from Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, said reports indicated the first part of the consignment arrived at the country’s Yamoussoukro airport for delivery to the forces of Laurent Gbagbo, incumbent president, on Sunday night with the remainder scheduled to arrive on Monday.
Mr Gbagbo has refused to accept the outcome of elections in November in which the UN recognised the winner as Alassane Ouattara, the rival candidate.
The UN statement described the shipment as a serious violation of an embargo in force against Ivory Coast since 2004. Mr Ban hoped the Security Council would meet urgently to discuss the issue, warning that action would be taken against both Belarus and the Gbagbo camp.
However, after Belarus denied the UN claim on Monday, Mr Ban’s spokesman said the reports were still being verified. Officials from a panel of experts assigned to monitor an arms embargo against Ivory Coast were trying to monitor activity at the airport.
The Belarus foreign ministry in a statement called the allegations “not compliant with reality” and added that it was part of a broader attack of “lies and defamation” aimed at discrediting the government.
Belarus has a large defence industry that was a critical part of Soviet-era weapons manufacturing, with many of the USSR’s high-technology arms being produced in the former Soviet republic. Following the break-up of the Soviet Union, Belarus has reportedly been used as a conduit for the export of Russian weapons, as well as selling arms like air defence systems to Iraq.
The Security Council last month ordered the deployment of an additional 2,000 peacekeepers to the Ivory Coast in response to rising political tensions and reports of human rights violations. The council also authorised deployment of three armed helicopters to back up the force’s capabilities. A 9,000-strong UN force has been stationed there since 2004 to monitor a civil war ceasefire.
The council postponed a meeting on Monday to discuss the reported arms shipment until it had more information.
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