afrol News, 23 February - Senegal today has broken all ties with Iran, following the January seizure of an arms shipments destined to its Casamance rebels. The move could spell a large setback for Iran all over Africa.
The government of Senegal "decided to break all diplomatic relations with Iran" around midnight, according to a statement by Senegalese Foreign Minister Madické Niang, citing Iranian "bullets that could cause the death of Senegalese soldiers."
Minister Niang in the statement added that his government "is outraged" about the documented secrete Iranian arms exports to a rebel group fighting for independence of Senegal's southern Casamance region. The conflict over the last years had shown signs of ebbing away.
The Minister also pointed to a new report by army headquarters to Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade over the latest developments in the Casamance conflict. The report highlighted that the rebels suddenly had gained "sophisticated weapons that have caused the death of Senegalese soldiers," Mr Niang said.
Indeed, the Casamance conflict has suddenly, and without particular political reasons, gained in force. On Sunday, in the fiercest fighting for years, three Senegalese soldiers were killed and six were wounded in a battle close to the Gambian border, according to Senegalese government sources.
Minister Niang explained that Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki in a 19 January meeting with President Wade had admitted that "Iran on several occasions had supplied substantial consignments of arms to The Gambia and that the cargoes seized in Nigeria contained ammunition destined for The Gambia."
The weapons scandal started unfolding in October, as Nigeria seized 13 suspicious containers sh
ipped from Iran. The containers, destined for The Gambia, turned out to contain sophisticated arms, including rockets and grenades.
Nigerian authorities reported the suspicious arms trade to the UN Security Council, which investigated further into the issue. Gambian authorities came under the spotlight, but denied they had made any orders for arms from Iran. Subsequently, The Gambia broke diplomatic ties with Iran on 22 December.
UN, Nigerian, Gambian and Senegalese investigations into the mysterious arms shipment - the third so far according to Iranian officials - have not been able to present proof to the widely assumed Casamance link. But if Gambian assurances are correct, the only market for sophisticated weapons around The Gambia is Casamance. Senegalese reports of a better armed Casamance rebel group indicates the same.
For Iran, which under UN sanctions is not allowed to export arms, the rupture of ties with both The Gambia and Senegal over an assumed arming of a rebel group could spell a diplomatic disaster in Africa.
Senegal is an influential member of the Africa Union (AU), and the AU strongly condemns any irregular arming of African rebel groups. With Senegalese lobbying at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, further African countries could severe links with Iran.
Iran in recent years has invested much in breaking its international isolation by improving relations with several African countries. Major Iranian investments have been registered in Senegal, Nigeria, Sudan and South Africa.
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