Mali charges 3 in 'cocaine plane' affair
Bamako - Mali has charged a Malian, a Spaniard and a Frenchman with "international trafficking in cocaine" in connection with its investigation into a drug-loaded plane that landed in its desert north in 2009.
"In the framework of the inquiry into the plane carrying cocaine, a Frenchman, a Spaniard and a Malian have been charged with international trafficking in cocaine," anti-corruption prosecutor Sombe Thera said in a television statement late on Monday.
The announcement was the first time that authorities in the west African country publicly acknowledged that the plane was carrying drugs.
The unidentified men who have been charged are being held in Mali, but officials gave no date of their arrest nor their place of detention.
Arrests have also been carried out in Morocco, according to Moroccan and Malian security sources who gave no further details.
Early in November 2009, a Boeing 727 coming from Venezuela and carrying "cocaine and other illicit products" according to the UN Office On Drugs and Crime, landed in the northern desert region of Gao. After unloading their cargo, the traffickers set fire to the aircraft.
Since then, about 10 people have been arrested in Mali. They include a French pilot, who was detained on March 7 and is suspected of being involved in several drug trafficking incidents.
In April, an official of the justice ministry spoke of "pressure to obtain the release of the two principal suspects" arrested in connection with the inquiry, without saying where the pressure was coming from.
Mali's President Amadou Toumani Toure has nevertheless given "the green light to shed all light on the affair".
International agencies fighting drug trafficking consider west Africa to be a major transit point for narcotics coming from Latin America and destined for Europe.