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`Aircraft with arms arrived only this morning'

By Amit Baruah

NEW DELHI, SEPT. 29. The Government said today that it was "aware" of the supply of certain explosives and ammunition by the United States for use by the Nepal police in counter-insurgency operations in the Himalayan nation.

While confirming a report in The Hindu this morning that a Bulgarian Vega Airlines aircraft was carrying U.S. Government ammunition and explosives, the External Affairs Ministry spokesman, however, claimed that the aircraft had arrived at the Ahmedabad airport "today morning" and left for Kathmandu after "mandatory" checks. The Hindu report said that the Vega Airlines aircraft had been sitting in Ahmedabad since Saturday awaiting clearance to leave for Kathmandu.

The Ministry spokesman said the report was "highly exaggerated" and "over-dramatises" a "routine" procedure. However, he did not say on how many occasions such "routine" procedures had been applied for the transit of arms through India.

Well-placed sources in the External Affairs Ministry told this correspondent that they were in "close consultation" with the U.S. as far as anti-terrorism coordination in Nepal was concerned. It took a certain number of days to give clearance [to such flights], the sources maintained.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman here said that the purpose of the flight was to transport training equipment and ammunition to support an anti-terrorist training programme of the U.S. State Department's Office of Diplomatic Security conducted in several parts of the world.

Asked if it was usual for the U.S. Government to use private charter flights to ferry arms, he said the State Department did not own any aircraft and used a competitive bidding process to select the airline to transport equipment and ammunition.

A UNI report from Ahmedabad said that a phone call to the police authorities led to an intensive search of the plane at the airport this morning.

The intelligence agencies too "came into the picture" and so did the U.S. Consulate-General in Mumbai. Customs officials gave a second clearance to the aircraft at 9 a.m. and, finally, the plane left for Kathmandu at 12.25 p.m.

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