Sunday, September 17, 2006

Avient and their new market

Several people have sent me this story from the Times (a newspaper that seems to be improving at the moment, despite being a Murdoch property). It deals with a British-owned airline, Avient, and its extremely dodgy activities in the DR Congo. As well as shifting arms in and diamonds out, Avient went so far as to replicate the old Air America trick from the Laotian war of dropping improvised napalm bombs on their clients' enemies. Read the whole thing.

Back then, they would mix 100-octane petrol with washing powder, which apparently thickened it, then lash the drums to a pallet with a phosphorus grenade or two. The pins were attached to the plane by a cord of suitable length so they would be triggered when the pallet was rolled out of the rear cargo door, but not too soon..

It's not just the DRC, though, where you might meet them. Concern is rapidly rising that the Sudanese government may be on the point of launching a final, genocidal sweep through Darfur, once it succeeds in chucking out the UN and African Union force. A tactic that has been frequent there is the use of Antonov cargo planes, usually An12 or An24/26, as improvised bombers to terrorise people out of their villages and onto the roads.

As well as their own air force, the regime in Khartoum has been a regular customer of our old friend Viktor Bout. "Airwest", which shares an ICAO code with East/West Cargo and is probably the same thing, is officially a Sudanese firm (although it is based in the UAE). Several Il-76 aircraft have crashed in various parts of the Sudan operating for this firm, one of which turned out to be an Aerocom plane using a Jet Line International callsign. Sudan Airways is the official lessor of Irbis's Yak-42, UN-42428, which I have documented operating to Iraq from Dubai in Sudanese colours.

Now consider this. At 2049 local time on the 9th of September - a few hours before I arrived down the road in Dubai - Avient flight no. SMJ 874 left Sharjah for Khartoum. I wonder what was its cargo? The schedules between the UAE and Iraq and Afghanistan these days show no more Irbis operations, but plenty of British Gulf International Airlines...who were, after all, the start of this story, back in the winter of 2003. I even saw one of their An-12s at Dubai Airport, waiting for my flight to the UK. Too far to identify the registration, but the tail colours were clearly visible.

(Update: As Chris points out in comments, there is a good thread on PPRuNe about this, here.)

1 comment:

Chris Stiles said...

See the Observer from a few years ago:

http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,846411,00.html

Also see the pprune thread, for a lot more information and links

http://www.pprune.org/forums/showthread.php?t=243143

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