Leaked cables claim Kenya sent tanks to South Sudan

Tuesday December 7 2010

Kenyan military officers inspect some tanks after they were offloaded from the mv Faina, which had been hijacked by Somali pirates off the coast of Somalia. Photos/GIDEON MAUNDU

Kenyan military officers inspect some tanks after they were offloaded from the mv Faina, which had been hijacked by Somali pirates off the coast of Somalia. Photos/GIDEON MAUNDU 

By KEVIN KELLY in New York [email protected] and PATRICK MAYOYO in Nairobi [email protected]

The mystery surrounding Russian-made tanks that the government denied were destined for South Sudan last year has been unravelled by a secret diplomatic cable.

A 2009 cable released by whistleblowing site WikiLeaks says a senior State Department official produced satellite images that appeared to show that the tanks unloaded in Kenya were trans-shipped to South Sudan.

The evidence contradicted claims by Kenyan officials that the hardware imported from Ukraine was intended for the Kenyan military.

A bill of lading and manifest of the hijacked MV Faina, which was seen by the Nation when the ship was released by pirates showed that its cargo consisted of more than 812 tonnes of ammunition in addition to 33 T-72 tanks from Ukraine.

Other weapons on the ship included unpacked spare parts for the T-72 tanks, Soviet-made anti-aircraft guns and rocket propelled grenades.

The Chief of General Staff, Gen Jeremiah Kianga, laid claim to the cargo insisting that the tanks and assorted arms belonged to the Kenyan military after pirates released the vessel they had captured off the coast of Somalia after ransom was reportedly paid.

However, satellite photos released by Wikileaks show that the T-72 tanks’ actual destination was in South Sudan. The photos, the cable says, were presented by a US deputy assistant secretary of state, Vann Van Diepen, during talks in the Ukrainian capital in September 2009.

The Ukrainian side is said in the document to have repeatedly insisted at the talks that the weapons were intended for the government of Kenya.

The Ukrainians stuck to that position even when Mr Van Diepen presented a copy of a contract that listed the actual recipient as the government of South Sudan.

A Ukrainian official “questioned the authenticity of the contract, and asked if the US had any better evidence,” states the cable marked “secret.”

The document dated November 9, 2009, was published on the website of London’s Guardian on Monday but a search of WikiLeaks’ own site on Tuesday did not reveal a link to the cable.

“Van Diepen, regretting that the GOU [government of Ukraine] had forced him to do so, showed the Ukrainians cleared satellite imagery of T-72 tanks unloaded in Kenya, transferred to railyards for onward shipment, and finally in South Sudan,” the Guardian’s version of the cable states. “This led to a commotion on the Ukrainian side.”

Mr Van Diepen then warned that “there was nothing for Ukraine to gain from lying and a lot to lose.”

He told the Ukrainians that the US would have to consider imposing sanctions as a result of the arms transfer to South Sudan in violation of international agreements. “A factor in US deliberations would be whether the GOU told the truth,” the document added.

The Ukrainian side still “asserted that Ukraine only had a relationship with Kenya, and did not have a relationship with South Sudan,” the cable continued. “Ukraine could not be held responsible for the actions of a third country.”

The Ukrainians however did promise to “study this situation in the light of a partner relationship so that the US knows that Ukraine is a reliable partner,” the cable said.

The document gives no indication of whether the United States raised the matter with the Kenyan government. Such a discussion might be recounted in US Nairobi embassy cables that WikiLeaks indicates it has obtained but has not yet released.

A ship carrying the weapons reached Mombasa in February 2009 after a $3.2 million ransom was paid to Somali pirates who had hijacked it five months earlier.