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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kazakh Airline Denies Ferrying Arms

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- The head of Kazakhstan's largest cargo airline on Wednesday rejected local media speculation that its planes might have delivered weapons to Somali rebels.

Vladimir Kuropatenko, president of Sayakhat Airlines, called the reports "complete nonsense and lies," and said his company was not operating any flights in Africa or leasing any of its planes to anyone there.

The speculation in local media followed sightings of an Il-76 cargo plane with the Kazakh flag painted on its tail landing in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, on July 26 and 28.

The Somali government said the plane delivered weapons including land mines and long-range guns from neighboring Eritrea to one of the anti-government militias making up the Supreme Islamic Courts Council that have overrun much of Somalia's south.

Both the rebels and Eritrean officials have denied the accusation.

Kuropatenko said Wednesday that Sayakhat planes had not carried the national flag on their tails since 1995. He said the national flag now was used only on the tails of planes that serve Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Sayakhat operates 51 percent of all its air cargo flights in Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry said Monday that the country had never delivered any weapons to Somalia and was "strictly" following the UN-imposed embargo on arms supplies to Somalia.

Kuropatenko, who also heads the Association of Air Carriers, said Wednesday that the association was investigating whether the plane seen in Mogadishu belonged to any Kazakh company.