No let-up in UK arms sales abroad

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN GRANTED 2,181 licences for the export of arms to "countries of concern" and refused only 24 during the Labour's first year in power - a period which saw a new and supposedly tighter code of conduct for sales of British-made arms abroad.

The data, compiled by the Saferworld research group, on the basis of Department of Trade and Industry statistics, appears one month before publication by the Government of a promised first official annual report on international arms sales. So loosely defined are the DTI categories that no firm conclusions may be drawn. But the figures do not make reassuring reading.

Among 35 listed countries at or near war, or with dubious human rights records, China was granted 36 licences, even though an EU arms embargo has been in force since 1989. "A flood of licences" has gone through for India and Pakistan, and several more for Eritrea, currently fighting a border war with Ethiopia.

Indonesia, Kenya, Syria and Turkey were among countries granted licences covering categories including small arms and machine guns, despite the new British guidelines banning such exports where there is a "clearly identifiable risk they could be used for internal repression". Fifteen licences were allowed for Indonesia alone between March and May 1998.

Saferworld acknowledges that the data does not prove Britain has breached its own guidelines, part of the vaunted "ethical foreign policy".

But, it warns, exactly that impression is created by the lack of transparency in the figures. Clear and precise information in the annual report was essential. If not "public debate will be based on suspicion, not fact".