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Letter: Arms loophole

Sir: Colonel Tim Spicer's evidence on the "arms to Africa" affair to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons highlights two important weaknesses in current UK controls on arms transfers ("Sandline says FO advised it to lie", 4 November).

First, that Sandline was able to transfer arms from eastern Europe (Bulgaria) to Sierra Leone demonstrates the complete absence of effective controls on operations of UK-based arms brokering agents. The government White Paper on Strategic Export Controls (produced in response to the Scott report) proposes to make it an offence for any UK person to participate in the brokering or trafficking of arms in contravention of UN, EU, OSCE or national arms embargoes. However, this would not prevent a UK person arranging the transfer of arms to sensitive destinations situated in regions of conflict but which are not the subject of an embargo.

Second, the allegation by Col Spicer that he was encouraged by Foreign Office officials to lie and claim that the helicopter gun and night vision equipment that he wished to export from the UK was for use by a mining company shows the ease with which existing end-use certification provisions can be circumvented. The UK currently has no formal procedures for verifying the authenticity of end-use certification. Nor are there provisions for following up arms, once exported, to ensure they have remained with their stated end-user.

Strengthening the White Paper on Strategic Export Controls by closing these loopholes would help prevent a repetition of such incidents.




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