Malian authorities have launched an investigation into whether a Boeing 727 cargo plane, thought to have been carrying a large amount of cocaine, had crashed or was torched by drug traffickers, a military source said.
The incident in Mali’s remote eastern region underscores the country’s place among West Africa’s favoured pitstops for South American drug traffickers seeking proximity to European markets and relatively low risk of government surveillance.
"At the moment we can’t be certain the plane was carrying drugs, but if it were it wouldn’t be a surprise. The area has become a haven for trafficking of all sorts’ drugs, weapons," said the military source who did not want to be identified.
He said a commission of inquiry had been set up and was examining whether the plane had been deliberately set on fire, or had crashed.
Drug traffickers seeking to cover their tracks sometimes buy old aircraft to use for deliveries and then destroy them.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime said earlier this month the plane was transporting as much as 10 tonnes of cocaine from Venezuela to West Africa, making it one of several significant trafficking incidents in Mali reported in recent years.
In February, Malian customs officials said they intercepted a large stash of weapons destined for al Qaeda’s North African wing. Two months earlier, nine Malian government troops and 11 Tuareg rebel fighters were killed when a rebel column attacked an army post in a raid linked to drug trafficking.
In January 2008, Malian border guards seized two trucks attempting to carry 750 kg of cocaine across the border to Algeria.
Pic: Boeing 727 plane