Sniper rifles supplied to Serbs despite sanctions

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SNIPER rifles made by a German subsidiary of Royal Ordnance have been exported to the former Yugoslavia in defiance of the 1991 United Nations sanctions, the Independent has learnt.

The rifles, being used by Serbian irregulars against Muslim civilians, are stamped on the barrel with the mark of the ballistics range at Ulm, Baden-Wurttemberg, used by the Royal Ordnance subsidiary Heckler & Koch. Serbian officials have confirmed that one shipment of G3 rifles arrived at the Montenegro port of Bar and was then carried by train to Belgrade in 1992, a year after the imposition of the UN embargo.

The disclosure is separate from allegations during a German court case, reported in the Independent yesterday, that Royal Ordnance, when state-run, had helped Heckler & Koch, then an independent company, to breach sanctions. The court has heard evidence suggesting that British officials helped to supply weapons to banned countries.

The Scott inquiry, investigating breaches of restrictions on arms exports to Iraq and Iran, is examining the alleged involvement of Royal Ordnance in the 1980s.

David Clark, Labour defence spokesman, said yesterday that he would table detailed questions when Parliament resumes in the new year. Royal Ordnance, Britain's largest weapons manufacturer, was privatised in 1987.

Several producers have licences to manufacture the sniper rifles, but the weapons seen recently in Bosnia and Serbia can be indentified by barrel markings as being manufactured in Germany. Heckler & Koch , acquired by Royal Ordnance in 1991, admitted that it had delivered 'small quantities of hunting rifles via their official representative' in Belgrade.

It has also emerged that numbers of Heckler & Koch's best-known special forces weapon, the MP5 light machine-gun, favoured by Britain's Special Air Service, have turned up in the hands of Serbian irregulars.

Heckler and Koch says these weapons were made under licence by Royal Ordnance at its small-arms factory in London, before 1987. It was not illegal then for British firms to export to Yugoslavia, although it was for German firms.

'Heckler & Koch does not know how many MP5 barrels have been delivered to Enfield,' the company said. 'Heckler & Koch has never delivered weapons to Yugoslavia.' Royal Ordnance said yesterday: 'We abide scrupulously by the requirements of Her Majesty's Government and only export to places for which we have approval. We cannot be responsible for what may end up in the hands of third parties.'

Commons scrutiny, page 3