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February 19, 2002
0345 IST

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Arms dealer of Indian descent held
in Belgium

Authorities in Belgium have arrested one of Africa's most notorious arms dealers, a man of Indian descent who has been charged with illegally supplying weapons to rebel forces in Sierra Leone.

Sanjivan Ruprah, a Kenyan national who has been banned from entering Britain, has been charged in Brussels with travelling on a false British passport, the Guardian reported on Saturday. Other more serious charges are expected to follow, it said.

The United Nations has identified Ruprah as one of the four men who supplied arms to the now defunct Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone in clear breach of international sanctions, fuelling a decade-long civil war against the government that claimed at least 50,000 lives.

Last month, the UN declared the civil war over as the last of 47,000 rebels laid down their arms.

Around 15 months ago the UN had decided to replace Major General Vijay Kumar Jetley, commander of the Indian peacekeeping mission that was fighting the RUF. The world body's decision to change the mandate of the mission from 'peacekeeping' to 'peace enforcement' forced India to pull out of Sierra Leone.

The UN has moved to establish a war crimes tribunal to try those responsible for atrocities in a conflict noted for horrific treatment of civilians, particularly children.

The UN says that Ruprah has worked closely with Victor Bout, a Russian arms dealer known as 'Africa's merchant of death', who supplied weapons to the rebels from eastern Europe in exchange for diamonds, it said.

The arrest follows a lengthy surveillance operation by the Belgian secret service, it said, adding that they were keeping tabs on Ruprah since the middle of last year when he arrived in the country to be with his wife.

Ruprah operated out of neighbouring Liberia, where the government backed the RUF. He is known to have several Liberian diplomatic passports, including one which identifies him as Liberia's deputy commissioner for maritime affairs. He often travels under the alias Samir Nasr, the daily added.

Agencies

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