Politics - Foreign Affairs: UK arms sales `covered up'

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN IS still more secretive than China on its arms exports, even after publication of new details under Robin Cook's "ethical" foreign policy, a rights group told MPs.

Plastic bullets, tear-gas and even leg-irons made in Britain may still be reaching countries with repressive regimes, Amnesty International told an inquiry into the Government's new annual report on export controls yesterday.

Ministers have promised to stop the export of torture equipment such as electro-shock batons and leg-irons and to refuse licences for other weapons that might be used for internal repression.

But a paper presented by Amnesty to the inquiry said new official data provided little evidence that the Government's pledge had been fulfilled. "The annual report provides information which is unacceptably dated, contains significant omissions and fails to provide convincing reassurance that UK exports are not being used to commit human-rights violations." Although Customs data on the items exported was listed in the report alongside broad categories of licences issued, it listed only the types of weapons, while the Chinese government also gave the value and weight of items.

Because of this vagueness, it was impossible to tell whether the 55 arms export licences to the Channel Islands were for small quantities of sporting equipment or for major consignments, which must have been shipped on elsewhere.

Amnesty also noted that because of confusion over how tear-gas was classified for export, it was impossible to tell whether countries such as Kenya and Indonesia, where demonstrators have been attacked by security forces recently, were still receiving the product from Britain.