June 21, 2009

Seized Plane: Ukraine explores diplomatic solution

Original locator map: David Liuzzo. Source: Wikipedia

By Kingsley Omonobi, Kenneth Ehigiator and agency reports

UKRAINE is exploring a  diplomatic solution to the Wednesday seizure of its plane in Kano.

The AN-12 aircraft on its way to Equitorial Guinea was impounded at the Mallam Aminu Kano Airport after making an emergency landing.

Found in it were arms and ammunition which the crew claimed were destined for Equitorial Guinea, but which some reports now suggest were indeed meant for militants in the Niger Delta.

Ukrainian diplomats met Nigerian security officers on Friday in Kano over the detention of the plane.

Two diplomats from Kiev’s embassy met for over an hour with  army officers and security agents at the Air Force Base near Kano where the aircraft and its crew were initially held, security officials said.

The diplomats, who declined to speak with journalists, also met briefly with the seven detained Ukrainian crew. The plane was detained after an early morning emergency landing at Kano airport following technical problems.

Eighteen crates of mines and ammunition were found aboard, officials said. The plane was searched for a second time on Thursday.

There are also indications that the Federal Government may have given the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) clearance to take over investigations into the aircraft impounded with weapons at the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport.

The presidency had  earlier ordered that the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) take over the investigation from Air Force Intelligence that effected arrest of the Ukrainian cargo aircraft in order to get to the root of the matter. But Sunday Vanguard gathered on Friday that government might have resolved to hand over the probe to the NCAA.

It was not immediately clear the reason government decided to hand over the investigation to the NCAA, especially as the aircraft was carrying weapons.

But Director-General of the NCAA, Dr. Harold Demuren, told Sunday Vanguard on telephone that he was yet to receive any directive to that effect.

“I have not received any directive from government to that effect, but if we are asked to take over the investigation, we will do our best to investigate the matter”, Demuren said.

The outgoing Director of Defence Information, Colonel Chris Jemitola told reporters in Abuja on Friday that investigations into the seized plane had been referred to the aviation authorities.

Security sources said in Abuja that the crew members had been handed over to the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) for interrogation were untrue.

Sources said the crew members were definitely not with the DMI although would not deny that they might have been handed over to the State Security Service (SSS).

Sources in SSS could not confirm that at press time. The Ukrainian News Agency quoting Nikolai Minyailo, director general of the company that owns the seized plane said it did not violate any law, saying the plane landed in Kano to refuel.