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Senegal Government Breaks Ties With Iran Over Arms Shipments

Feb. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Senegal severed diplomatic ties with Iran over a series of arms shipments that it alleges have led to the deaths of soldiers from the West African nation, Foreign Minister Madicke Niang said.

Iran delivered “important amounts” of arms to Gambia, Niang said in a statement published in the state-owned le Soleil newspaper today. Gambia borders the southern Senegalese region of Casamance, where separatists are fighting for autonomy. A shipment of weapons seized in Nigeria last year was also destined for Gambia, Niang said.

“Senegal is indignant to find that Iranian bullets have been able to cause the deaths of Senegalese soldiers,” he said. “As a consequence, Senegal has decided to break its diplomatic relations with the republic of Iran.”

Nigerian authorities in October intercepted 13 shipping containers of Iranian rockets, grenades and mortars and charged an Iranian national and three Nigerians with unlawfully importing the weapons. CMA CGM SA, the French shipping company, said an Iranian company used one of its vessels to illegally transport the arms to Lagos, Nigeria, after labeling them as “packages of glass wool and pallets of stone.”

In December, Senegal withdrew its ambassador to Iran, citing concern that the consignment may “deeply undermine the peace and security of the sub-region.” Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade restored the ambassador five weeks later, after a visit by Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, who pledged to provide as much as $200 million dollars for joint economic projects.

Three Consignments

Iran’s ambassador to Nigeria, Husseini Abdullahi, said earlier this month the shipment seized in Nigeria was the last of three consignments destined for Gambia, the Lagos-based Nation newspaper reported on Feb. 9. He didn’t give the final destination of the weapons.

Members of the Wade administration believe the weapons were meant to be delivered to separatists in Casamance, Papa Dieng, a special adviser to the president, said in a Jan. 11 interview. The rebels began attacks on military and civilian targets in Casamance in 1982 to demand independence.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, who has ruled Gambia for 16 years, is from the Casamance region and is “thought to be quietly and unofficially sympathetic to Casamance rebels’ cause of greater autonomy if not independence for the southern region of Senegal,” Strategic Forecasting Inc., an Austin, Texas-based intelligence group, said in November.

Nuclear Weapons

Trade and financial transactions with the Persian Gulf nation have been restricted after the United Nations approved a fourth round of sanctions in June in response to concerns that the Iranian government is attempting to build nuclear weapons.

In a 2009 meeting, Wade voiced support for Iran’s “struggle to contain the proliferation of nuclear weapons,” according to minutes posted on the government website. The country continues to support Iran’s nuclear project if it is purely for civilian purposes, Prime Minister Souleymane Ndene Ndiaye said.

Iran Khodro, the country’s largest car manufacturer, maintains two plants outside of the Senegalese capital, Dakar, from which it seeks to export as many as 15,000 cars a year to country’s as far away as Nigeria, according to the company.

Production at the plant won’t be affected by the break in diplomatic ties, Senegalese Foreign Minister Madicke Niang told reporters in Dakar today.

Economic Cost

Iranian investment in Senegal’s ailing electricity industry may not materialize, Niang said. Iran was set to complete agreements soon for a 50-megawatt power plant, Ambassador Jahanbakhsh Hassan Zadeh told the Senegalese state newswire on Feb. 7.

On Jan. 20, the Iranian Interim Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said his nation would provide as much as $200 million dollars for joint economic projects.

Those plans could be terminated, Niang told reporters, Still, “each time we have a problem with one partner, we will find ourselves dealing with another partner.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Drew Hinshaw in Dakar at dhinshaw@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Richardson at pmrichardson@bloomberg.net

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