Army tests South African vehicles: Negotiations on arms sales reach advanced stage prior to lifting of embargo after next year's elections

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The Independent Online
THE BRITISH Army has been testing South African armoured vehicles in Britain and this month will test them in Bosnia.

Arms trade with South Africa is forbidden by UN Security Council Resolution 558 of 1984, although exploratory negotiations prior to lifting of the arms embargo after free elections next April are not precluded.

Experts have been surprised at how advanced negotiations for arms sales to and from South Africa are and that the first military forces to benefit from lifting the embargo will be those assigned to the UN.

Previously, the Ministry of Defence has denied any contact with the South African armed forces or arms manufacturers. Recently, MoD sources admitted they had been negotiating with the African National Congress about arms sales to the next government in South Africa.

Courses at the British Civil Service College at Sunningdale in Berkshire are replete with ANC members, an indication of Britain's desire to cultivate the future government.

An article in next month's edition of International Defense Review reveals that the British have been testing two South African armoured vehicles because they suit the type of operations in which the British Army is currently involved.

The vehicles are wheeled armoured cars - the Mechem Mamba, which can carry 8 or 11 people and is protected against mines; and the Iron Eagle, a fully armoured liaison vehicle with a three-person crew. Those to be tested in Bosnia will be repainted UN white in Britain, but are understood to be of South African origin.

The day Canada and the US announced the lifting of economic sanctions against South Africa in response to a request by Nelson Mandela, the ANC leader, the South African company Mechem licensed Alvis, which built the Scimitar light tanks currently in use in Bosnia, to supply its armoured vehicles to customers including the UN and the British Army. The Review says the deal was signed with the approval of the British Foreign Office and the ANC on 24 September.

The UN sanctions still in place forbid the export of arms and paramilitary equipment to South Africa (UN resolution 418 of 1977); a non-mandatory ban on the import of arms, ammunition and military vehicles from South Africa (UN resolution 558 of 1984); a ban on nuclear contracts and sales of computers that may be used by the South African army and police (UN resolution 569 of 1985); and a prohibition on the display of imported South African armaments (UN resolution 591 of 1986).

The British Army has the heaviest armoured vehicle of any UN force in Bosnia - the tracked GKN Warrior Infantry fighting vehicle, which has been outstandingly successful.

But it also has the ageing 1960s FV- 432 series armoured personnel carrier and 1970s CVR series - the Scimitar and Spartan - plus armoured and soft-skinned Land Rovers. The Land Rovers are vulnerable to the large number of mines scattered about because of the position of the fuel tank.