Oxfam condemns arms sales breach

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The Independent Online
Oxfam yesterday accused the Government of being in breach of its own guidelines on arms sales. Eleven arms export licences have been granted to Indonesia since 28 July, when Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, announced new regulations for arms sales overseas.

"This flies in the face of the criteria," an Oxfam spokesman said yesterday. "In practice, what is happening is not the same as Mr Cook is saying."

Oxfam's analysis suggested that since Labour took office in May, there have been 22 arms export licences issued for Indonesia - half of them since Mr Cook issued his new regulations.

According to Margaret Beckett, President of the Board of Trade, just four applications have been rejected since the new regulations were introduced. But the Oxfam spokesman said that government figures presented only half the picture, because they related to military equipment. Police equipment, which could also be used for repression, was not included.

Opening a campaign with advertisements in some newspapers today - showing a child with a gun, and the message "Dear Santa, Please don't send me a gun this Christmas" - Oxfam said that current regulations were still too weak.

It urged the Government during its six-month presidency of the European Union, from January, "to agree a genuinely tough EU-wide code of conduct on arms exports to prevent arms going to repressive regimes".

The spokesman said the Charity Commission had ruled that charities were allowed to become involved in political campaigning, such as the landmines campaign, where the issues involved were "pertinent" to their work.

"If we are to stop small arms falling into small hands, then a vital part of the solution is for both British and EU arms sales to be regulated by a far tougher code of conduct than the Government appears committed to," Diana Mel- rose, head of policy at Oxfam, said.

Oxfam has discovered, according to the latest analysis of export licences, that a "worrying" number have been agreed for countries where there is a strong risk of weaponry being used against civilians - including Turkey, Indonesia, Algeria, Colombia and Nigeria.