BAMAKO — Authorities in Mali arrested three people for dismantling the wreck of a plane thought to have been used to smuggle cocaine from Venezuela, a Malian source close to the inquiry said Sunday.
"Three people of Malian nationality, who were dismantling the wreckage of a Boeing 727 have been arrested and transferred by plane to Bamako," the source told AFP, following their arrest in the Gao area in the northeast of the country.
Authorities are now investigating whether they were trying to destroy evidence, the source said.
Earlier this month a UN official said the Boeing 727 landed on a makeshift strip and unloaded a cargo of illegal drugs before crashing as it tried to take off.
A Malian official on Sunday cast doubt on the crash theory, saying he thought the smugglers simply destroyed the plane after completing their delivery.
"I saw the burnt-out wreck of the plane more than 200 kilometres north of Gao. It's a Boeing 727. It's not certain from the position of the aircraft that it crashed as it was trying to take off," the official said.
"I think they had no intention of taking off there. They came for a mission and once the mission was complete they burned the aircraft, and that was that."
On November 16 Alexandre Schmidt of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime told journalists in Dakar the plane was transporting drugs from Venezuela to west Africa.
But Caracas questioned the evidence linking it to Venezuela and said US media were manipulating information to detract from Venezuela's anti-drug policies.
In recent years west Africa has become an important transit point for South American cocaine being smuggled to European markets and according to Schmidt there are also signs that the region is now moving into producing drugs.
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