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Iran FM holds talks in Nigeria after illegal arms shipment

by Staff Writers
Lagos (AFP) Nov 11, 2010
Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki held talks in Nigeria on Thursday, a spokesman said, following the recent discovery of an illegal arms shipment in Lagos believed to have been loaded in Iran.

The Nigerian foreign ministry spokesman did not provide details on the talks, but the arms cache, including rockets and grenades, has provoked major controversy in Nigeria and the shipping firm has said it was loaded in Iran.

"A meeting was indeed held today between the foreign minister of Iran and the Nigerian foreign minister," said ministry spokesman Ozo Nwobu.

"The meeting was over a crucial bilateral issue between the two countries."

Nigeria's minister, Odein Ajumogobia, planned to brief journalists on Friday morning, he added.

Security agents last month intercepted 13 containers discharged from the vessel CMA CGM Everest at the country's busiest port of Apapa in Nigeria's economic hub of Lagos.

Shipping firm CMA CGM said the containers had been loaded and sealed in Iran by an Iranian businessman who does not appear on an international list of prohibited traders.

CMA CGM, based in France, said the containers were loaded in Bandar Abbas, a southern port city of Iran, and discharged in Lagos in July.

But some time last month the shipper sought to have the containers reloaded and sent to Gambia, a tiny west African country wedged inside Senegal, according to the firm.

Earlier this week, Nigeria's intelligence agency said it had been monitoring the shipment, which was disguised as building material, before it arrived in the country.

It also said the shipment's destination was Nigeria, and "any argument that the cargo came into the country by mistake is false." The consignee and the clearing agent had been arrested, the agency said.

Illegal weapons are widespread in Nigeria, but the recent discovery led to major concerns, with elections set for early next year and following the independence day twin car bombings on October 1 that killed at least 12 people.

The country's most prominent militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, claimed responsibility for the car bombings, which marked the first such attack in the capital Abuja.

MEND has carried out scores of attacks and kidnappings in recent years, but mostly in the oil-producing Niger Delta region and rarely with such a high number of casualties.

The group claims to be fighting for a fairer distribution of oil revenue, but it has also been seen as an umbrella group for criminal gangs.

Elections in Nigeria have often been tainted by violence.

The car bombs exploded near where Nigerian leaders and foreign dignitaries were attending independence day commemorations, heightening fears of a bloody campaign season.

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