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I SAW THE MOON

April 24, 2011 1 comment

By Gaither Stewart

(Rome) Last Saturday night I saw the Supermoon. The same March 19 night that Operation “Odyssey Dawn” was launched against the Libya of Muammar Gadaffi, the earth’s star in all its glory passed its nearest point to planet Earth as it does every 19 years. This time it was a full moon. It hovered over my house. At midnight the yellow Supermoon illuminated my front yard almost as a winter sun does at midday. That same night the same moon shone also over Tripoli, 600 miles the south, illuminating all of Libya as it did my front yard.

Under that moon, French Rafale jets attacked Libya. The impatient, arrogant and presumptuous French President Sarkozy showed off his new Rafale aircraft to the Arab world where France apparently hopes to sell loads of the new fighter plane. Tactically, Sarkozy simply jumped the gun in order to get there first. To put the French stamp on the operation and to claim a slice of the post-Gadaffi Libyan pie. The Rafales attacked before Italy had time to accomplish its role of knocking out Libyan radar guiding Gadaffi’s anti-aircraft. To astonished Libyan gunners, the Rafales must have looked like a sitting duck up there against that moon.

If you are in Europe today, you would not suspect that the US Africa Command under General Carter Ham might be in charge of Operation Odyssey Dawn. Except for the rain of 158 US missiles over Libya, in Europe the US is barely mentioned as a participant. Here, it is depicted as a European operation, with US backup. In fact on March 21, three days after the start of the air strikes, European media spoke of US withdrawal from the operation. But history shows that is pure fantasy. American withdrawal from a war seems highly unlikely. And to boot a war against that good old enemy Muammar Gadaffi is highly doubtful.

However America’s position may be, it was the military anomaly of the French jumping the gun that set the stage for the dissension already dividing the ranks of the European nations supposedly adhering to the UN Resolution to establish a no fly zone over Libya and to protect Libyan civilians. Three days into the operation against Gadaffi and the Coalition of Volunteer Nations is already split. No one seems to be in command. Italy and France are at each other’s throats. Italy threatens to withdraw its airbases and go it alone if overall command is not put in the hands of NATO, preferably operating in the Naples headquarters with Italian support. NATO has said it is willing to assume command. But France wants the leadership for itself.

Not only the Italo-French controversy over who is in command, but also the question of what to do with Gadaffi, when and if he is deposed, perplexes Europe: exile abroad, or exile somewhere in Libya, or trial in The Hague for crimes against humanity, or (unspoken but intimated: his assassination). Hard to forget is that only several months ago Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi received his friend Muammar in Rome with full honors and kissed the dictator’s hand in public. Accompanied by his female bodyguard, his Amazonian Guard, Gadaffi set up his tents in a Rome park, where his horses and camels grazed while he was feted left and right. Also, though less ostentatious, Sarkozy recently received Gadaffi as a chief of state in the Elysée Palace in Paris.

Major European concerns are Libyan oil, trade and other economic considerations after the eventual deposition of Muammar Gadaffi. Meanwhile, Gadaffi’s threats to flood Europe with one million immigrants worry especially Italy and France. And Gadaffi’s “long war” threat hangs heavy over Europe and the North African Renaissance. Those who at first spoke of a Blitzkrieg, a lightning war, over in a few hours or days, are today scratching their heads in consternation. The question is, how to attack Gadaffi’s tanks and troops hidden in villages and small towns, waiting, waiting, waiting. The long war indeed seems more likely.

The ugly reality that dictators no less ferocious and corrupt than Gadaffi reign over other Middle East countries is a distasteful subject largely shrugged off: ‘After all we can’t discipline the whole world.’ Or, as someone asked, who can imagine bombing Saudi Arabia? Especially Italy is cautious in Libya both because of its own atrocious colonial record of cruelty there last century and because Libya is a major trading partner. Also, Prime Minister Berlusconi now feels sorry for his friend Muammar, who however accuses Italy of betrayal.

Also France has a bad colonial record in North Africa as a whole. Ironically, French-speaking Tunisian immigrants are pouring into the reception center on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa with a population of 5000 and only 165 miles east of Tunisia. Today there also 5000 immigrants, a majority of whom want to move on to France. Xenophobic voices in Italy and France call for a naval blockade around Tunisia and Libya to halt the flow: another act of war despite the UN definition of “humanitarian intervention” for the operation in Libya that every European knows is already war.

Europe is divided. Germany refused to participate in Odyssey Dawn from the start. Other nations followed the German lead. Turkey opposes the intervention, tout court. Russia likewise condemns it. Norway first sent its aircraft then withdrew them to wait and see who will be in command. Other participating nations demand NATO overall command. No country except France likes the so-called Coalition of Volunteer Nations because France wants to go it alone in order to reap the greatest benefits.

Italian leftwing media are perplexed. All agree Gadaffi should go. Most agree that Libya is a different story from Egypt and Tunisia. Many also doubt claims of a spontaneous uprising of Libyan people, poorly armed and disorganized. Many suspect the usual hidden roles of foreign powers and that the Libyan crisis was created artificially, something like Iraq and Kosovo. Yet, on the evening of March 21, at the end of the third day of the “conflict” (use of the word “war” is largely frowned on in Italy since Italian President Napolitano declared this was NOT a war but a humanitarian intervention, a view which many consider naïve) a major leftwing TV talk show introduced a big group of  North Africans and Arab-speaking journalists to depict the Libyan insurrection as a truly popular uprising against a dictator. An Italian Arab-speaking female journalist with long experience in the Arab world and who resides in Egypt declared with great passion: “After decades and decades of cruel oppression, people everywhere inevitably reach the point where they rise up and say “No! No more. We will take no more. The dictator must go”.

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Gbagbo could face international charges, Ouattara says

April 15, 2011 4 comments

(CNN) — The former leader of Ivory Coast may have to face international charges for alleged crimes committed during his time in office, President Alassane Ouattara announced Wednesday, as he outlined his plans to bring peace and security to his nation.

Ouattara told reporters that he was setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, similar to those created after civil wars or conflicts in other countries, in order to bring to justice anyone who committed atrocities during the most recent strife or even before that.

“Reconciliation can’t be done without justice,” Ouattara said in a news conference at the Golf Hotel, where he was holed up for months in the violent aftermath of the disputed presidential election.

“All Ivorians are equal in the eyes of the law, no matter their politics, their origin, their religion or their race,” he said.

Former President Laurent Gbagbo has been moved out of the Golf Hotel, where he was held after his arrest Monday, and is now under guard in a villa elsewhere in the country, Ouattara said.

“He is safe, and we will treat him with consideration,” the president said. “He is under house arrest in a villa.

The president of the U.N. Security Council, Colombian Ambassador Nestor Osorio, said Wednesday that Gbagbo was taken to a presidential residence in the northern part of the country.

“We must respect his rights as a former leader, and make sure that the consideration he deserves due to his former title is truly respected, and of course that his physical safety and health is also preserved,” Ouattara said.

As for charges against Gbagbo, that will be up to the Ivorian justice minister, Ouattara said, adding that international counts would be determined by an international prosecutor.

The president also vowed that even members of the Republican Forces — the troops loyal to him — who were found to have committed crimes would be brought to justice.

“All the soldiers — even those in the Republican Forces — identified as being pillagers will be dealt with,” the president said, in response to a journalist’s question about reports of Republican Forces troops participating in raids and pillaging in Abidjan.

Human Rights Watch published a scathing report Saturday about abuses perpetrated by pro-Ouattara forces on their offensive to Abidjan.

People interviewed by the monitoring agency “described how, in village after village, pro-Ouattara forces summarily executed and raped perceived Gbagbo supporters in their homes, as they worked in the fields, as they fled or as they tried to hide in the bush.”

“Ouattara should fulfill his public pledge to investigate and prosecute abuses by both sides if Côte d’Ivoire is to emerge from this horrific period,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

Also under investigation is the massacre in the western Ivorian town of Duekoue, where the International Committee of the Red Cross said 800 people were slaughtered. The United Nations blamed many of the deaths on Ouattara’s forces.

Ouattara said the minister of justice has already begun a probe into those killings, the Human Rights Commission would be sending representatives in the next few days to look into the matter as well, and he has scheduled a meeting with the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court.

“I condemn this massacre,” Ouattara said Wednesday. “The people responsible for these killings, whoever they are, will be judged.”

“I am revolted, indignant at the number of dead,” he added.

As many as 27,500 people took refuge after the massacre in a Catholic mission in Duekoue, according to Amnesty International, and humanitarian conditions there are deteriorating rapidly.

“They are trapped in overcrowded and appalling conditions, having fled their homes after atrocious abuses were carried out by both parties to the conflict,” said Véronique Aubert, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Africa.

The human rights group also warned that supporters of Gbagbo in Abidjan and elsewhere were at risk of violent reprisals following the former president’s capture.

One eyewitness reported to the group that a policeman belonging to Gbagbo’s ethnic group was taken from his home and shot dead at point blank range, an Amnesty International statement said.

“Dozens of young people are going into hiding in Abidjan out of fear for their lives,” Aubert said. “In the western part of the country, people suspected of being pro-Gbagbo are also terrified. Many are hiding in the bush after their villages were burned down. They need to be protected.”

On Wednesday, the International Rescue Committee said in a statement that rapes, sexual assaults, beatings and harassment of Ivorian women and girls by armed men had increased by “alarming numbers.”

“Women and girls are being brutally raped by armed men, often in front of their family members,” said Liz Pender, an IRC women’s protection expert, who has been meeting with groups of Ivorian women and girls who fled to Liberia in recent weeks to escape the violence in their homeland. “One woman told me she was forced to watch as several men took turns raping her sister, sometimes with a stick, and that she didn’t survive the attack.”

The refugee women who took part in Pender’s group discussions said fear of rape or sexual slavery were the primary reasons they fled to Liberia, according to the IRC statement. It provided no details on the identities or political ties of the armed men carrying out the assaults.

Ouattara has blamed much of the bloodshed in the aftermath of the election on forces loyal to Gbagbo, and said his government has begun a two-month program to root out weapons across the country.

He’s also demanded that the militia members and mercenaries who worked for the former leader surrender their arms immediately.

But he faces a daunting task in forging a peaceful and stable path forward.

Chief among his challenges, said longtime observers, will be to unite the severely divided nation and ensure justice for those who committed grave human rights violations in the nation’s political vacuum — including those in his own camp who stand accused of heinous acts.

Most of the blame for the bloodshed rests squarely on the shoulders of Gbagbo, whose refusal to cede power plunged Ivory Coast into crisis, said Jendayi Frazer of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for African Affairs under former President George W. Bush.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, is now poised to investigate alleged war crimes instigated by Gbagbo.

Ouattara will have to delicately balance such a probe with reconciliation. After all, said expert Alex Vines, Ouattara did not win in a landslide.

Gbagbo won 45.9 percent of the vote and as such, Ouattara will have to reach out to his rival’s supporters, perhaps even welcome them into his government without jeopardizing justice, said Vines, head of the Africa program at the British think tank Chatham House.

But even more significant may be the way Ouattara handles his own dirt.

Though he emerged in the Western media as the good versus Gbagbo’s evil, Ouattara, too, has been accused of having blood on his hands.

In the United States, Ouattara’s critics questioned his right to rule.

“It is now clear, based on U.N. reports coming from Cote d’Ivoire, that mass killings have occurred at the hands of Alassane Ouattara,” Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, said earlier this month.

“This calls into question his legitimacy to lead that country,” said Inhofe, who has visited Ivory Coast nine times and made no secret of his support for Gbagbo. “Ouattara is on a rampage, killing innocent civilians, and he must be stopped before this becomes another Rwanda.”

Human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson said Ouattara’s moment in the spotlight could quickly dim without adequate investigations into the abuse allegations against forces loyal to him.

“Mr. Ouattara should also be investigated because of the evidence that his troops did commit rapes and abuse en route to Abidjan,” said Robertson, a former president of the U.N. special court for Sierra Leone.

Such a probe could answer questions about what amount of control Ouattara exerted over the forces fighting under his name and whether he deliberately failed to stop them, Robertson said.

In his favor, Ouattara has been viewed for some time as a hardworking man, an honest politician who favors transparency.

He hailed from northern lands dominated by Muslim immigrants who came to work in Ivory Coast and eventually grew into influential businessmen and traders.

The U.S.-educated Ouattara quit his International Monetary Fund job to run for president in 2000 and might have met Gbagbo on the ballot then, except that he was marked as an outsider — his mother was from Burkina Faso — and barred from participating in the election.

The pro-Gbagbo newspaper Notre Voie accused Ouattara of backing a failed 2002 coup against Gbagbo’s government, which triggered the 2002 civil war.

Ouattara’s critics blame him for the deep split that Ivory Coast has yet to mend.

Vines said the rebels who fought in the 2002 civil war, the Force Nouvelles, formed a large part of the pro-Ouattara forces fighting Gbagbo’s troops in the latest crisis.

The United Nations has repeatedly cited the armed group for breaking the arms embargo imposed on Ivory Coast, and human rights groups have sounded alarms about its abuses.

The moral high ground in Ivory Coast, said Vines, is that the election result is clear and in favor of Ouattara.

“After that it gets gray and in the last few weeks, it’s gotten very opaque indeed,” he said about the recent spate of killings, especially the massacre in Duekoue.

Ouattara, said Robertson, must conduct a swift inquiry into the allegations and punish the perpetrators.

Otherwise, Robertson said, Ouattara will “himself be vulnerable to prosecution in The Hague.”

Categories: Africa

WikiLeaks Reveals US Twisted Ethiopia’s Arm to Invade Somalia

December 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Rob Prince

December 14, 2010

 

By mid-2007, the 50,000 Ethiopian troops that invaded Somalia in late 2006 found themselves increasingly bogged down, facing much fiercer resistance than they had bargained for as Somalis of all stripes temporarily put aside their differences to stand together against the outside invader.

As the military incursion turned increasingly sour, then-U.S. Undersecretary of State for Africa Jendayi Frazer, who taught at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies in the 1990s, insisted that, prior to the invasion, the United States had counseled caution and that Washington had warned Ethiopia not to use military force against Somalia. Frazer was a close collaborator with former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, for whom there also is a strong University of Denver connection. Frazer certainly tried to distance the United States from responsibility for the Ethiopian invasion in a number of interviews she gave to the media at the time.

But one of the released WikiLeaks cables suggests a different picture, one that implicates Frazer in pressing Ethiopia’s President Meles Zenawi to invade his neighbor. The content of the cable is being widely discussed in the African media. It exposes a secret deal cut between the United States and Ethiopia to invade Somalia.

If accurate – and there is no reason to believe the contrary – the cable suggests that Ethiopia had no intention of invading Somalia in 2006 but was encouraged/pressured to do so by the United States, which pushed Ethiopia behind the scenes. Already bogged down in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at the time, the Bush administration pushed Ethiopia to invade Somalia with an eye on crushing the Union of Islamic Courts, which was gaining strength in Somalia at the time.

At the time of the invasion there was little doubt that the Ethiopian military incursion was “made in Washington.” Like so many other WikiLeaks cables, this one merely puts a dot on the “i” or crosses the “t” on what was generally known, although it does give specific information about Jendayi Frazer’s deep involvement in the affair.

According to the cable, as the main U.S. State Department representative in Africa, Frazer played a key role, spearheading what amounted to a U.S.-led proxy war in conjunction with the Pentagon. At the same time that she was pushing the Ethiopians to attack, Frazer was laying the groundwork both for the attack in the U.S. media and for a cover-up by claiming that although the United States did not support Ethiopian military action, she could understand “the Somali threat” and why Ethiopia might find it necessary to go to war.

Frazer spread rumors of a possible jihadist takeover in Somalia that would threaten Ethiopian security. Turns out that media performance was little more than a smokescreen. The U.S. military had been preparing Ethiopia for the invasion, providing military aid and training Ethiopian troops. Then on Dec. 4, 2006, CENTCOM Commander Gen. John Abizaid was in Addis Ababa on what was described as “a courtesy call.” Instead, the plans for the invasion were finalized.

At the time of the Somali invasion, Zenawi found himself in trouble. He was facing growing criticism for the wave of repression he had unleashed against domestic Ethiopian critics of his rule that had included mass arrests, the massacres of hundreds of protesters, and the jailing of virtually all the country’s opposition leaders. By the spring of 2006 there was a bill before the U.S. Congress to cut off aid to Zenawi unless Ethiopia’s human rights record improved. (His human rights record, by the way, has not improved since. Given how the United States and NATO view Ethiopia’s strategic role in the “war on terrorism” and the scramble for African mineral and energy resources, Western support for Zenawi has only increased in recent years.)

In 2006, dependent on U.S. support to maintain power in face of a shrinking political base at home – a situation many U.S. allies in the Third World find themselves in – and against his better judgment, Zenawi apparently caved to Frazer’s pressure. Nor was this the first time that Frazer had tried to instigate a U.S. proxy war in Africa. Earlier as U.S. ambassador to South Africa, she had tried to put together a “coalition of the willing” to overthrow Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe, an initiative that did not sit well with South Africa’s post-apartheid government and went nowhere.

The 2006 war in Somalia did not go well either for the United States or Ethiopia. Recently, a State Department spokesperson, Donald Yamamoto, admitted that the whole idea was “a big mistake,” obliquely admitting U.S. responsibility for the invasion. It resulted in 20,000 deaths and according to some reports, left up to 2 million Somalis homeless. The 50,000 Ethiopian invasion force, which had expected a cakewalk, instead ran into a buzz saw of Somali resistance, got bogged down, and soon withdrew with its tail between its legs. The political result of the invasion was predictable: the generally more moderate Union of Islamic Courts was weakened, but it was soon replaced in Somalia by far more radical and militant Islamic groups with a more openly anti-American agenda.

As the situation deteriorated, in an attempt to cover both the U.S. and her own role, Frazer then turned on Zenawi, trying to distance herself from the fiasco using an old and tried diplomatic trick: outright lying. Now that the invasion had turned sour, she changed her tune, arguing in the media that both she and the State Department had tried to hold back the Ethiopians, discouraging them from invading rather than pushing them to attack. The WikiLeaks cable tells quite a different story. In 2009, the Ethiopian forces withdrew, leaving Somalia in a bigger mess and more unstable than when their troops went in three years prior. Seems to be a pattern here?

Reprinted courtesy of Foreign Policy in Focus.


:: Article nr. 72891 sent on 15-dec-2010 04:15 ECT
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Link: original.antiwar.com/prince/2010/12/13/wikileaks-reveals-us-twisted-ethiopias-ar
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Categories: Africa

ANALYSIS-Ivory Coast faces new bout of uncertainty

December 3, 2010 Leave a comment

02 Dec 2010

Source: reuters // Reuters

CIelection460

ABIDJAN, Dec 2 (Reuters) – Ivory Coast faced growing uncertainty and the threat of further unrest on Thursday after the country’s top legal body rejected provisional poll results that gave opposition leader Alassane Ouattara victory in a presidential election.

The military announced that all air, land and sea borders would be closed until further notice. An overnight curfew imposed ahead of the Nov. 28 vote was extended earlier this week until Sunday.

Here are factors to watch now as doubts increasingly cloud the electoral process aimed at healing divisions in the world’s top cocoa grower seven years after the end of its civil war.

 

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

– The Constitutional Council, the highest legal body that oversees elections, said it did not recognise the election commission’s announcement that Ouattara had beaten incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo with a score of 54.1 percent, arguing the body had missed the official deadline to publish the scores by one day.

– The Council says it is now the only body able to rule on the validity of the results, and in particular the allegation by Gbagbo’s camp that the vote was rigged in the rebel-held north. The body’s chief is Paul Yao N’Dre, a staunch Gbagbo ally.

– In theory, the Council is correct in saying that the election commission missed its deadline to publish. Yet supporters of Ouattara will point out that it tried to start doing that late on Tuesday, but was blocked from doing so by pro-Gbagbo members of the commission. Results from the first round were also announced after the official deadline.

– The Council now has seven days to give a final ruling — a period that will see intense political manoeuvring within Ivory Coast and concerted diplomatic pressure on the two camps to abide by election rules and keep supporters under control.

 

WHAT ABOUT OUTSIDE PRESSURE

Foreign powers, including the United States and France all called for the results to be published on time and respected. But the United Nations Security Council also warned that it would take action against anyone thwarting the election process.

According to the 2007 deal which led to a breakthrough in the stalemate to reunify the country after the 2002-3 civil war, the U.N. must sign off on any final election result.

It isn’t clear, however, how far the U.N. mission, led by softly-spoken South Korean diplomat Y.J. Choi, will go in defending a process he has so far called democratic.

Gbagbo has long won popularity by resisting foreign intervention in his country. Donors have little leverage over Ivory Coast in terms of aid in the world’s top cocoa-exporter.

Pressure is likely to turn instead to regional and other African leaders to try to find a solution to the crisis before it escalates, potentially derailing the peace process.

The U.N. Security Council warned Ivory Coast it was prepared to take “appropriate measures”, a diplomatic code word for sanctions, against anyone thwarting the electoral process.

But N’Dre warned the election results would not be influenced by foreign actors from the U.N., the African Union or even regional body ECOWAS.

 

SHORT-TERM RISK

– Sporadic outbreaks of violence before and after the vote have shown the scope for unrest in a country with a history of instability at poll time. Both Gbagbo and Ouattara are able to bring supporters out on the street to protest.

– That ever-present threat of trouble is likely to ensure the doors of many of Ivory Coast’s cocoa exporters remain shut until further notice. Several large exporters already shut down this week, citing the risk of trouble.

– Initially, there will not be a dramatic impact on deliveries of this season’s harvest, as a pre-election surge in arrivals to ports over the past two weeks has meant that total deliveries are ahead of last year’s. However the market has already started pricing in potential disruption with cocoa futures prices up by over three percent on Thursday.

 

MEDIUM-TERM RISK

– Further out, the dispute calls into question the recovery story which optimists had hoped to see for the economy that was one of West Africa’s star performers before the war.

– A successful election would have tempted many investors back into a country whose infrastructure, despite the war and years of political limbo, is still a cut above that of many in the region. Until Ivory Coast can show it has overcome this latest bout of uncertainty, many of those investors will prefer to stay away.

– As doubts have grown over the election process, so the yield on Ivory Coast’s $2.3 billion Eurobond <CI049648839=> has ticked ever higher from pre-vote levels of below 10 percent. Late on Thursday it reached 10.9 percent. Only if Ivory Coast can emerge from its current woes will it be able to come back to the market to issue debt on more favourable terms. By comparison, neighbouring Ghana’s Eurobond yields around six percent.

 

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Categories: Africa

Gambia cut ties with Iran and order diplomats to leave

November 23, 2010 Leave a comment

23 November 2010 Last updated at 07:08 ET

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad (right) shakes hands with the President of Gambia Yahya Jammeh in Tehran, 2 December 2006 The Gambian and Iranian presidents have enjoyed close ties in recent years

The Gambia has said it is cutting all ties with Iran and ordered all Iranian government representatives to leave within 48 hours.

Officials from the small West African nation gave no reason for the move.

But last month Nigeria said it had intercepted an illegal arms shipment in Lagos from Iran, destined for The Gambia.

Senior Iranian official Alaeddin Borujerdi has said the move was taken under US pressure.

The Nigerian authorities said they had discovered the weapons, including rocket launchers and grenades, in containers labelled as building materials.

The France-based shipping company CMA CGM which transported the shipment said attempts were made to send it to The Gambia before the Nigerian police seized it.

Mr Borujerdi, chairman of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee of Iran’s parliament, confirmed that a private Iranian company had sent the arms to The Gambia but said this was “in line with international laws”, reports the official Islamic Republic News Agency (Irna).

Nigeria has reported the seizure to the UN Security Council.

Iran is under UN sanctions because of its nuclear programme and is banned from supplying, selling or transferring arms.

‘Embarrassed'”All government of The Gambia projects and programmes, which were [being] implemented in co-operation with the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, have been cancelled,” the Gambian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Security officials holds one of the seized weapons in Lagos, Nigeria (27 Oct 2010) The weapons seized by Nigerian security officials in Lagos included rocket launchers and grenades

Correspondents say ties between Tehran and Banjul became closer after Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh came to power in 1994.

When The Gambia hosted the African Union summit in 2006, the Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a guest of honour.

The Gambia has been among those developing nations who have defended Iran’s right to nuclear power.

Charlie Zrom, who has published a paper on Iranian foreign policy for the American Enterprise Institute, a think-tank in Washington, says the move is a surprise and will be an embarrassment for Iran.

“Iran has sought partners around the world especially as sanctions have come on the table in the last few years,” he told the BBC’s Network Africa programme.

“West Africa has been a key priority for them and we’ve seen a number of visits both from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and from the defence minister.

“It’s a tool by which Iran tries to prevent measures harmful to it, or it believes harmful to it, being passed at the United Nations.”

Correspondents say the decision to expel all Iranian diplomats will bring an end to several projects funded by Iran, such as the $2bn (£1.2bn) agreement to supply The Gambia with heavy and commercial vehicles.

The two countries, both of which have faced criticism over their human rights records, have had fairly close ties.

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