Rise in arms export licences expected

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A new report was today set to show a sharp rise in the number of arms export licences issued by the Government.

A new report was today set to show a sharp rise in the number of arms export licences issued by the Government.

The report, to be published this afternoon, was expected to detail a rise of up to 10% in the number of licences issued in 1998 compared to the previous year.

It is also expected to show a sharp increase in the number of "open licences" which allow multi-shipments of arms without further reference to the Government.

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook was expected to face questions from MPs over arms sales abroad.

He is expected to come under pressure over arms sales to Indonesia where Britain has exported Hawk jets and large-calibre weapons at the same time as pro-Indonesian militias, believed to be backed by the military, were carrying out atrocities in East Timor.

The report today will not detail the amount of arms sold abroad, only the the number of licences issued by the Government.

It is published after pledges by ministers to be open about weapon sales abroad and introduce greater safeguards to stop weapons going to regimes with a record of human rights abuses.

Campaigners against the arms trade have called for greater restrictions on the sale of weapons saying they contribute to conflict and poverty, especially in the Third World.

However, arms manufacturers insist the trade is legitimate, point out that the main customers are France and Germany and the trade is responsible for employing around 300,000 people in the UK.

Amnesty International UK said that unless the report on arms exports disclosed the number of items supplied under each licence, it would simply perpetuate a culture of secrecy over Strategic Export Controls.

Mark Lattimer, the organisation's director of communications, said: "Despite some improvements we expect in today's report, we are concerned that the public will still not be given enough information to judge for themselves whether or not the Government is keeping its promise to end arms exports that may contribute to internal repression.

"More fundamentally, there still appear to be no plans to enable Parliament and the public to raise concerns regarding arms exports before they take place, as happens in the US."

Mr Lattimer said that in examining the report, his organisation would pay particular attention to what licences may have been granted to allow the export of military equipment to countries such as Bahrain, Colombia, India, Kenya, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Turkey - countries in which Amnesty has particular concerns about human rights.