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INTERVIEW-Nigeria says Iranian arms shipment was illegal

February 24, 2011

Nigeria reported Iran to the U.N. Security Council in November for an apparent breach of U.N. sanctions imposed over its nuclear programme. Tehran said the shipment was part of a legitimate sale by a private company to Gambia.

“We’re part of an international community, we signed on to a resolution that approves sanctions and one of the sanctions was the transportation of arms and ammunition from Iran,” Nigerian Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia told Reuters on Thursday.

“Whether it was destined for Nigeria or Gambia or anywhere else it was an illegal shipment and therefore we had obligations under international law and under our obligations to the United Nations to do what we did.”

The weapons included assorted calibres of mortars and 107mm rockets — designed to attack static targets and used by armies to support infantry units — and shells for a 23mm anti-aircraft gun, hidden in containers marked building materials.

A suspected member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Azim Adhajani, and a Nigerian accused of being his accomplice pleaded not guilty this month to charges of possession and importation of weapons and with making a false cargo declaration.

Prosecution documents identify Adhajani as a Tehran-based businessman and member of the Revolutionary Guard.

Diplomatic sources told Reuters shortly after the goods were seized that two members of the al-Quds force — an elite unit of the Revolutionary Guard which specialises in foreign operations for Iran — were involved.

The second Iranian had diplomatic immunity and has since left the country. Ajumogobia said there was no clear evidence linking him to the shipment.

“They claimed he was a diplomat, which he was, and he therefore he had immunity … so we did what was appropriate under international law in maintaining our relations with Iran.”

Intelligence officials say Adhajani’s trial could prove uncomfortable for Iran, potentially exposing the extent to which al Quds has established a presence in West Africa and damaging its quest for closer ties with Africa.

But Ajumogobia said Nigeria and Iran still maintained a good relationship and would continue to work closely together on development projects, particularly in improving Nigeria’s dilapidated power sector, where Iran has expertise.

“As long as the country doesn’t do anything to undermine our own national interests we will maintain ties with any country that is willing to support us in the interest of the people in Nigeria,” Ajumogobia said.

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