Djibouti displays Chinese tank destroyer for the first time

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Djibouti’s armed forces on Saturday displayed a Norinco WMA301 tank destroyer for the first time, adding to its growing inventory of military hardware.

The single WMA301 was displayed during Djibouti’s 38th anniversary of independence parade on 27 June, which was attended by the head of state Ismail Omar Guelleh and defence minister Hassan Darar Houffaneh and the chief of staff of the military, General Zakaria Cheikh Ibrahim.

Only one WMA301 Assaulter was displayed during the parade, making it unclear exactly how many have been delivered to the East African country. The vehicle uses a 6×6 WZ551 armoured personnel carrier hull fitted with a 105 mm gun in a three-man turret, as well as a 12.7 mm roof-mounted machinegun and 7.62 mm coaxial gun. The vehicle weights around 19 tons. The type is in service with Cameroon and Chad, which, according to IHS Jane’s, have deployed them in action against Boko Haram militants.

During the independence day parade, the Forces Armee Djiboutien also paraded M109 howitzers and Cougar mine-resistant, ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles. Both types are relatively new to Djibouti’s inventory, being displayed for the first time at the country’s 2014 anniversary celebrations. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Djibouti received ten second hand 155 mm M109A1 self-propelled howitzers from Italy in 2013 and 12 Force Protection Cougars from the United States in 2013.

Other recent acquisitions by Djibouti, according to SIPRI, include ten RG-33 armoured personnel carriers acquired second hand in 2014, two second hand Shorts-360 transport aircraft acquired from the United States in 2014 and seven Iveco Puma armoured vehicles (armed with Chinese W85 12.7 mm machineguns) delivered second hand from Italy.

Djibouti’s military also operates Ratel-90 and AML-90 armoured vehicles and BTR-80s. Djibouti received eight BTR-80 APCs in 2002, nine second hand Casspirs in 2000 and 12 RAtel-90s in 2004, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The Army also operates M-11 VBLs, AML-235s and BTR-60s.

On 18 June 2014 Djibouti received a Xi’an Aircraft Corporation MA60 transport aircraft from China for use in support of peacekeeping troops in Somalia and as a VIP transport. In May this year the China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation (CATIC) announced that the Djiboutian Air Force’s MA60 had been converted to carry VIPs, passengers and cargo, becoming the first of its type to have this triple role.

China and Djibouti enjoy good diplomatic ties and recently discussed the establishment of a Chinese naval base. In May, Guelleh told Agence France-Presse of the base talks, adding that Beijing’s presence would be welcome in the former French colony, which borders Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun, asked about the report at a monthly news briefing, said the two countries had a traditional friendly relationship. “Over the past few years both countries’ friendly cooperative relationship has kept on developing, and in all areas there is practical cooperation,” Yang said, in comments broadly in line with Foreign Ministry remarks in April on the same topic.

“What needs to be explained is, maintaining regional peace and stability accords with all countries’ interests, and is the joint desire of China, Djibouti and all other countries in the world,” Yang added. “China is willing to, and ought to, make even more contributions in this regard,” he said, without elaborating.

In 2009, Chinese officials distanced themselves from comments by a rear admiral, Wu Shengli, who urged the nation to set up navy supply bases overseas for the anti-piracy fight. Wu is now China’s naval chief.

Chinese ships have undertaken anti-piracy operations off Somalia since late 2008, and in early 2010 Beijing agreed to join the multi-nation effort to protect shipping in the Gulf of Aden and nearby stretches of the Indian Ocean.

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