Weapons smuggled in planes used to send aid: think tank

A prominent Swedish think tank has warned that air cargo companies hired to deliver humanitarian aid and support peacekeeping operations in Africa are also often used to smuggle weapons.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said in a report released on Tuesday that 90 percent of air cargo companies identified in arms trafficking-related reports had been used by UN agencies, European Union and NATO members as well as leading non-governmental organizations to deliver aid.

“For example, UN peacekeeping missions in Sudan have continued to use aircraft operated by (Sudan’s) Badr Airlines even after the UN Security Council recommended an aviation ban be imposed on the carrier in response to arms embargo violations,” the SIPRI report said.

The report also singled out other African carriers such as Astral Aviation, African International Airlines and the Sudanese-registered Trans Attico as being named in arms trafficking reports.

It also said several US private security firms hired air cargo carriers and aircraft which have been “involved in the trafficking of arms to militias which the US government have designated ‘global terrorists’.”

Swedish foreign aid minister Gunilla Carlsson would take swift action to ensure that the Sipri recommendations were implemented.

“I welcome the report which highlights a serious problem that demands immediate measures,” Carlsson said in a statement.

“The conclusions are very disturbing.”

The report cited Dyncorp, a company that provides security services for the US government, as having contracted Aerolift, a firm accused by the UN Security Council in 2006 of being involved in arms trading, to supply weapons to an Islamist militia that controls much of southern Somalia.

The militant group, al-Shabaab, was added by the US government to its list of terrorist organizations in March 2008 over alleged links to al-Qaeda.

SIPRI’s report added that air carriers involved in aid and peacekeeping operations were also used to transport “conflict-sensitive” goods such as cocaine, diamonds and other precious materials.

One of the report’s authors, Mark Bromley, said that a more rigorous application of the EU’s existing air safety regulations could play a crucial role in stemming the flow of weapons to Africa’s conflict zones.

“Air safety enforcement could put hard core arms dealers out of business,” Bromley said in a statement.

“Our research shows that companies named in arms trafficking-related reports have poor safety records. Safety regulations represent their Achilles heel, and can do to them what tax evasion charges did to Al Capone,” he added.

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