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Weapons shipment belongs to us, Defence Minister declares

BUSINESS
By | March 15th 2011

By Martin Mutua

Chief of General Staff Jeremiah Kianga and Defence Minister Mohammed Yusuf Haji were Monday questioned for about three hours over the controversial arms that are being ferried by ship from the United States to Kenya.

Journalists, however, were thrown out before the meeting due to the ‘sensitivity of military procedures’. But before they were thrown out, Haji briefly defended the arms cache saying it was destined for Kenya and it was the property of the Armed Forces.

"It is true the arms are ours but because of piracy, the (ship’s) captain could not declare the arms. But once they arrived, that would have happened," he added.

The minister said he had also later learnt that soya beans had been used to cover the arms and joked that they were welcome because they would be eaten on arrival.

Defence Minister Yusuf Haji (left) and Chief of General Staff Jeremiah Kianga when they appeared before the Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Foreign Relations, Monday. [PHOTOS: MBUGUA KIBERA/STANDARD]

Committee meeting

Haji and Kianga arrived at Parliament Buildings at 2pm and went straight to the fifth floor of Continental building, which houses offices for MPs and also has several board rooms where committee meetings are held.

Chairman of Parliament’s Defence and Foreign Relations Adan Keynan threw out journalists before the meeting could commence saying the matters to be discussed were sensitive as they touched on national security.

"Procedures allow us to discuss such sensitive matters in camera and with our new Constitution, we have to strike a balance," he added.

Questions had been raised within security circles after The Standard revealed that the ship, Maersk Constellation, was detained in Angola for 12 days after local security personnel detected arms, which the ship’s captain had failed to produce documentation for.

Both Kianga and Haji were expected to shed light on the ownership of the arms. They were also expected to explain various procurement processes, recruitment and retirements at the military. The two were also grilled about the arms, which included rockets and anti-aircraft guns that were loaded in four 20-foot containers.

Yesterday was the second time in Kenya’s history that a parliamentary team has questioning top military boss. Even though the Maersk Constellation was said to have set sail from the Angolan port of Lobito, it is yet to dock in Mombasa.

While the ship’s crew told Angolan authorities the arms belonged to Kenya’s Armed Forces, an explanation offered by Government Spokesman, Mr Alfred Mutua only deepened the mystery.

angolan port

Last Monday, when The Standard broke the story of the arms on the ship that was detained at the Angolan port of Lobito, Mutua claimed it was carrying four containers of high-calibre bullets for Kenyan forces, but made no mention of the anti-aircraft guns, and sidestepped the question on who owns them.

According to Angolan media and CNN, the ship was carrying bullets, anti-aircraft guns and rockets.

The weapons were hidden under bags of soya. The ship’s crew failed to declare the weapons when the ship docked at Lobito to offload relief food, and it was by accident that Angolan port officials stumbled upon them.

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