Arms brokers to be placed on new register

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Arms brokers who ship weapons into the world's trouble zones are to face tough new controls, ministers have said.

The move, designed to help stem the flood of small arms into war-torn African states, goes much further than earlier plans by the Government to tackle the problem.

In future all brokers and dealers based in Britain will have to place their names on a register from which they can be removed if they break the law. A formal announcement will be made later this month by Stephen Byers, the Trade and Industry Secretary.

Mr Byers has come under pressure from the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, and the International Development Secretary, Clare Short, to take tougher action. But the hard line approach was opposed by the Ministry of Defence.

Currently brokers face no penalties if a deal is masterminded in Britain but the arms are shipped from abroad.

Under the new plans, brokers are expected to face a system of registration and possible international blacklisting if they sell arms which end up in countries subject to arms embargoes.

Under the new system Britain will almost certainly agree to share information on illicit arms brokers with other governments.

The system could help to prevent scandals such as the Mil-Tec affair of 1994, when a company based in the Isle of Man was found to have shipped weapons later used in massacres in Rwanda.

Last year The Independent revealed that a broker in Surrey was advertising banned torture equipment on a government website, but he would only have broken the law if the equipment had been shipped from the UK. Campaigning groups and charities have long pressed for tough action on broking. A spokesman for Oxfam said it would give a cautious welcome to the register but would still like to see the Government go further.

The Government is planning legislation in this Autumn's Queen's Speech to implement changes recommended in the Scott Report on Arms to Iraq. It is possible that changes affecting arms brokers could be brought in sooner under secondary legislation.