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Big-time Russian arms dealer nabbed

world Updated: Mar 06, 2008 23:20 IST

A suspected Russian arms dealer was arrested on Thursday in Bangkok on allegations that he supplied Colombian rebels with arms and explosives, Thai police said.

Lt. Gen. Pongpat Chayapan, head of the Crime Suppression Bureau, said Viktor Bout was arrested in his hotel room in Bangkok, on a warrant issued by a Thai court following a month long manhunt. The warrant came out of an earlier one issued by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman “congratulated” the Thai police for the arrest but could not provide details about the role the Americans played in it.

Pol. Col. Petcharat Sengchai told reporters that Bout was wanted on charges of “procuring weapons and explosives for Colombian rebels” known as the Revolutionary Armed Forced of Colombia or FARC. The leftist FARC has been fighting Colombia’s government for more than four decades, and funds itself largely through the cocaine trade and kidnaps for ransom and political ends.

Bout, a murky figure rarely seen in public, has also been accused of trafficking weapons to Central and West Africa since the early 1990s.

U.N. reports say he set up a network of more than 50 aircraft around the world and trade experts have said illicit diamond trade was likely one source of funds for his smuggled arms shipments. Although Bout has been investigated by police in several countries, he has never been prosecuted for arms dealing. A 2005 report by Amnesty International, a Britain-based human rights watchdog, alleged that Bout was “the most prominent foreign businessman” involved in trafficking arms to U.N.-embargoed destinations from Bulgaria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and other countries.

The report also implicated Bout in transferring “very large quantities of arms” from Ukraine that were delivered to Uganda via Tanzania aboard a Greek-registered cargo ship. In 2003, the U.N. imposed an arms embargo on the provinces of North and South Kivu and the Ituri regions of eastern Congo, and also on groups that were not a part of the 2003 peace agreement for the region.