Guinea frees blocked Mali arms shipments

Malian soldiers pictured near Bamako in March 2012 The army seized power, accusing the government of being soft on the rebels

Guinea's government has released a shipment of arms bound for Mali which had been blocked because of insecurity in its landlocked neighbour.

Islamist groups and Tuareg rebels have taken control of northern Mali following a coup in March.

The regional bloc Ecowas, which has been mediating the crisis, inspected the cargo and advised Guinea to release it to Mali's new unity government.

The Bulgarian-made arms reportedly include armoured personnel carriers.

The BBC's Alhassan Sillah in Guinea's capital, Conakry, says news of the blocked shipment came out in August - and no official details have been given about what it contains.

There have been a series of delegations in the city from Mali and Ecowas to try and decide what to do about it, he says.

Military intervention

Abdoul Kabele Camara, Guinea's minister of defence, said the cargo included several tanks, armoured personnel carriers and ammunition, AP news agency reports.

Map

"Ecowas came and inspected the container, and we did an inventory. Together we decided that we could release it. We are now waiting for the Malians to bring the necessary equipment to transport the arms," Mr Camara said.

An earlier investigation by Reuters news agency quoted a source saying 20 BTR-60 armoured personnel carriers were among the order from the ousted government of President Amadou Toumani Toure.

Our correspondent says other reports suggest only small arms - rifles and grenades - are in the shipment.

Mali's army seized power a month ahead of elections accusing Mr Toure of failing to deal effectively with a Tuareg rebellion - but Islamist groups then took advantage of the chaos and seized all the region's major towns, including the historic city of Timbuktu.

The military junta then nominally handed over power to civilians in April, but it remained influential and relations with Ecowas were fractious.

A new unity government was formed in Mali in August in an attempt to restore stability and over the weekend the UN Security Council adopted a resolution paving the way for military intervention to retake the north.

Both Mali's government and Ecowas have made requests for authorisation for an international force to intervene, with Ecowas proposing a force of 3,000.

But the UN has so far refused to endorse requests for military intervention without details of a plan.

Earlier this week, Guinea expelled about 26 Malians suspected of having links to Mali's Islamists.

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