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Senegal Accuses Iran of Supplying Weapons to Rebels

  • Anne Look

Senegalese Foreign Minister Madicke Niang gives a press conference at the foreign ministry in Dakar (file photo - January 4, 2011)

Senegalese Foreign Minister Madicke Niang gives a press conference at the foreign ministry in Dakar (file photo - January 4, 2011)

Senegal has severed diplomatic relations with Iran, accusing it of supplying weapons to separatist rebels in the southern Casamance region where three Senegalese soldiers were killed in attacks over the weekend.

The two countries' previously strong diplomatic ties have been strained since October, when 13 containers loaded with weapons from Iran were seized at the Nigerian port of Lagos.

The weapons were reportedly bound for the Gambia, which separates the rest of Senegal from the Casamance region. Rebels in Casamance have waged a low-level insurgency for independence since the 1980s.

Concerned that the weapons were destined for rebel hands, Senegal recalled its ambassador to Iran in December, only to send him back to Tehran in January.

Since then, however, Senegal's foreign affairs minister, Madicke Niang, says troubling information has come to light.

Niang says a report by the head of the Senegalese army says the rebels have sophisticated weapons, that in Niang's words, "did not fall from the sky." He says reliable sources have determined that these arms came from Iran. He says Senegal cannot maintain relations with a country that is working to destabilize it.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement Wednesday cutting diplomatic ties with Iran and blaming these "sophisticated arms" for the deaths of Senegalese soldiers in the Casamance.

According to the statement, Iran's foreign affairs minister met with Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade on February 19 and admitted that Iran had delivered large lots of arms to the Gambia multiple times, and that the cargo seized in Nigeria contained munitions destined for the Gambia, which severed ties with Iran in December.

Foreign Affairs Minister Niang says Senegal should have been informed of these actions. He says it would have been "a minimum amount of courtesy" and an obligation considering the intensity of the relationship that Senegal has developed with Iran.

It is unclear what impact this diplomatic divorce will have on Iran's economic interests in Senegal, including a $200 million joint-economic cooperation pact signed in January and Iranian car manufacturing activities outside of Dakar.

A suspected Iranian arms dealer and his Nigerian counterpart are currently on trial in Nigeria in connection with the weapons shipment, which included mortars, grenades, rockets and anti-aircraft ammunition.

Nigeria reported Iran to the United Nations Security Council for the arms shipment intercepted in October because it appears to breach sanctions imposed on Tehran for its nuclear program.

The United States and other countries accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran denies the charge.