Parliament Defence: British firms still selling arms to repressive regimes

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN HAS exported CS gas and smoke grenades to countries with poor human rights records including Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia and Colombia since Labour came to power, a government report on arms sales revealed yesterday.

The report, which covers the last eight months of 1997, drew a mixed reaction from campaigners. They welcomed it as the most detailed published by a European government but condemned exports of arms and riot control equipment to repressive regimes.

For the first time, the report published details of arms exports not just by broad categories but by specific types of arms. It did not, however, say how many of each type of armament was sent.

Britain's biggest customer by far was Saudi Arabia, which received goods worth pounds 1.5bn out of total arms exports worth pounds 3.3bn. Most of the goods were combat aircraft, but the list also contained smoke dischargers and machine-gun spares. Saudi Arabia has been criticised for human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests.

The report showed that the UK had exported CS smoke pellets, stun grenades and submachine guns to Sri Lanka, where there were up to 100 extra judicial killings during the year from May 1997. Colombia, where more than 3,500 peoplewere killed by government forces and where police and soldiers beat and tortured detainees, bought smoke grenades and ammunition.

Full details of goods exported under Open General Licences, which allow any company to export arms provided it registers with the Government, were not given. However, the licences included one to Turkey, where torture is widespread.

Several campaigning groups including Oxfam and Saferworld congratulated the Government on the report.

Paul Eavis, director of Saferworld, said the public could see which arms were going where for the first time. "It is vital now that this leads to more responsible regulation of the arms trade," he said.

Rachel Harford, of the Campaign Against Arms Trade, pointed out that 101 individual arms licences were granted to Turkey between May and December 1997. "Turkish authorities use and will continue to use UK weapons to repress the Kurdish population," she said.