The narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) has opened an investigation into the discovery of assault weapons and narcotics hidden amidst a consignment of trucks being shipped from Mumbai to Indian Army peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, government sources have told The Indian Express.
Kenyan special forces, acting on information from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), had seized over 34 weapons, including M19 rifles and general-purpose machine guns, from the Singapore-flagged Höegh Transporter at the port of Mombasa on September 17.
The weapons, an official familiar with the case told The Indian Express, are believed to have been loaded on to Höegh Transporter in Dubai, where the ship had stopped before arriving in Mumbai.
However, the ship’s Indian and Philippines-origin crew are still being questioned on how the weapons, along with a packet of narcotics, were then hidden amidst the Indian Army’s trucks.
“The recipient of the weapons clearly also had the means to be able to extricate the drugs and weapons at Mombasa, where they were to be delivered to Indian peacekeepers, or on their onward transit to the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is clearly a matter of very serious concern,” the official said.
Police in Kenya, officials there have said, are investigating who the weapons might have been intended for. Jihadist group al-Shabab, now waging a war of attrition against Kenyan troops north of the border, ranks among the potential clients, along with rival militia in war-torn South Sudan, as well as a welter of criminal syndicates.
Norwegian transport giant Höegh Autoliners, which owns the Höegh Transporter, said in a statement that “the weapons were not declared to us at the time the cargo was loaded, and the fact that weapons were in the vehicles is in violation with our terms of transportation, which clearly states that no arms or ammunition are accepted for shipment”.
The 1999-built Höegh Transporter is carrying 3,983 vehicles, including 257 UN vehicles to be used for peacekeeping missions in countries such as Uganda and South Sudan.
Mohammed Morowa, head of port security at Mombasa, told Kenya’s Standard newspaper that “the manifest had not indicated that weapons were among the hardware”.
However, Charles Bambara, a spokesperson for the the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, known by its French-language acronym MONUSCO, told the news agency Reuters that the weapons were indeed intended for Indian troops based in North Kivu province.
Though Mumbai cargo agents had initially erred in omitting the weapons from the cargo manifest, Bambara said the mistake had since been corrected. Asked about Hoegh Autoliners’ assertion that weapons were not allowed on board, Bambara said: “APCs are not a tourist vehicle. APCs are for security issues.”
M19 rifles are not, however, in use with the Indian Army — raising questions about the origin of the consignment. Bambara had not, at the time of writing, responded to an e-mail query from The Indian Express for clarification. Phone calls and text messages to the Indian Army’s Directorate-General of Public Information were also unanswered.
The UN’s mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, made up of 19,815 military personnel with 760 observers and staff officers and 391 police personnel, has in the past faced allegations that its personnel have been involved in mineral smuggling and sex trafficking.