Saudi force 'trained by UK'

The Saudi Arabian National Guard sent into Bahrain to crush a popular uprising receives training from the British military, it was reported today.

The training including weapons and public order are organised by the British Military Mission to the Saudi Arabian National Guard, according to documents obtained by The Observer under the Freedom of Information Act.

The secretive group is said to consist of 11 British army staff under the command of a brigadier.

The disclosure, which provoked criticism from human rights campaigners, comes amid criticism that the Government has not been as tough in tackling the Bahraini and Syrian ruling regimes as it has in taking on Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.

Nicholas Gilby of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade said: "Britain's important role in training the Saudi Arabian National Guard in internal security over many years has enabled them to develop tactics to help suppress the popular uprising in Bahrain."

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) stressed that British involvement in training foreign forces was intended to engender a culture of respect for human rights.

A spokesman said: "The UK provides world-class defence training and education to many countries, including in the Gulf, creating lasting ties between our armed forces and enhancing their ability to work together towards regional security and stability.

"The Gulf States are key partners in the fight against terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear weapons as well as being an emerging source of economic and political influence.

"By providing training for countries to the same high standards used by UK armed forces we help to save lives and raise awareness of human rights."

Defence Secretary Liam Fox said: "We train a lot of other forces in things like communications and bomb disposal, including the Saudis, who are a major strategic partner, a major partner in the battle against terrorism.

"Secondly, although elements in the Saudi National Guard have been used in Bahrain there is absolutely no evidence that they have been used for anything other than the protection of infrastructure."