News24

Mali probes 'drug Boeing'

2009-11-26 18:14

Bamako - National and international inquiries are under way in Mali into a burnt-out Boeing 727 that is believed to have made a cocaine delivery, President Amadou Toumani Toure has announced.

"The reference details of the aircraft have been found (on site) by the Malian security services," Toure said in a television appearance late on Wednesday. He added that the crew of the plane set it ablaze to make any trace "disappear".

On November 16, Alexandre Schmidt of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime told journalists in Dakar that the plane was transporting drugs from Venezuela to west Africa.

According to the UN office, the Boeing 727 landed on a makeshift airstrip and unloaded a cargo of illegal drugs before crashing as it tried to take off.

'Tried to destroy the plane'

But investigators have cast doubt on the crash theory and said that those involved instead tried to destroy the plane by fire.

Answering critics who have protested at the silence of Mali's government in the affair, Toure said "that was a matter of not wishing to interfere in the inquiry."

"Those who say that we wanted to hide a plane are pretty funny. How do you hide a plane? Since the beginning of the affair, we have been in contact with several foreign envoys right here," the president added.

He gave no details of the national and international investigations.

The plane was abandoned deep in the desert more than 200km north of Gao in the northeast of the deeply poor west African country on the southern edge of the Sahara.

In recent years west Africa has become an important transit point for South American cocaine being smuggled to European markets. According to Schmidt there are also signs that the region is now moving into producing drugs.