Cluster bombs on offer at arms fair despite sales ban

Cluster bombs are being offered for sale at an arms fair in London, The Independent has discovered, despite assurances by the organisers, that the weapon would not be marketed at the event.

Denel, the South African company, confirmed yesterday at the show being held at the Excel Centre in Docklands, that it made and supplied the cluster weapons.

Cluster submunitions are colourful, about the size of a soft-drinks can, and they often attract the attention of children. Unicef, the United Nations children's organisation, has reported that more than 1,000 children were injured by unexploded ordnance, including cluster bombs, after the official end of the Iraq war in 2003; 13,000 cluster bombs had been used by UK and US forces in Iraq that year.

Gyfford Fitchat, the executive manager for business development at Denel, said the company produced a 155 millimetre shell that disperses 42 bomblets in the air above the target. The artillery shell had a range of 25 miles, he said. "There are no restrictions on selling these, except that we need approval from our government. But I believe we would only export them to stable, mature sort of countries," Mr Fitchat said.

He saidthe weapon, which was not on display, was designed to work against tanks but he conceded it would also inflict injuries on any people in the target area. The bomblets rain down on an area of about 200 metres by 200 metres, he said.

The revelation will be a huge embarrassment for the Government, which helps organise the Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi) gathering that started yesterday. It will also be a blow to the British publisher Reed Elsevier, which puts on the biennial event, the world's biggest arms fair.

Cluster bombs are not illegal but their use has been condemned by humanitarian organisations, such as Human Rights Watch. The likelihood of casualties among civilians, due to their wide dispersal pattern and frequent inaccuracy, is high. Many of the bomblets fail to explode on reaching the ground, so they pose a continuing danger.

Mike Lewis, of the Campaign Against Arms Trade, said bomblets worked in the same way as landmines, which have been outlawed under the Ottawa Convention. "The fact that a company is willing to offer a weapon [at DSEi] that is so destructive and internationally reviled is a reflection of how little arms companies are conscious of the humanitarian implications of their products," he said.

Officially the trade fair does not allow cluster bombs to be promoted at the event. Paul Beaver, spokesman for the DSEi, declared: "They [cluster bombs] are not here, not for sale and not even a topic of conversation." On being told that at least one company was willing to sell the weapons at the fair, he said: "I'm surprised you have found that, but you have to remember they are not illegal. There are far worse weapons, you know."

The taxpayer picks up a substantial bill for the event - for the policing, for the British armed forces personnel and warships made available for demonstrations, and for foreign delegations put up at the taxpayers' expense. A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said action would be taken against any exhibitor selling illegal weapons, but added cluster munitions did not fall into this category.

Reed Elsevier - the owner of the DSEi exhibition - is also one of the world's foremost science publishers. Ahead of the event, one of its most prestigious medical titles, The Lancet, denounced Reed's connection with the arms trade. The journal said in an editorial that cluster bombs - "the worst kind of weapon" - would be represented at the fair. "Our owners are engaged in a business that so clearly undermines not only principles of public-health practice, but also the policies of intergovernmental agencies," The Lancet said in an editorial.

According to the Campaign Against Arms Trade, more than a dozen makers of cluster bombs, including BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin are at DSEi. But only Denel was prepared to talk about the weapon at the event.

A cruel weapon

Many cluster bombs do not explode on impact. The small, brightly coloured bomblets lie like anti-personnel mines, tempting children. While considered an effective weapon by many Nato governments, the bombs are opposed by groups such as the Red Cross. They remain a daily danger in Laos and southern Vietnam, as well as Kosovo and Iraq. During the US's military campaign in Afghanistan, its forces faced a problem after humanitarian rations dropped from airplanes were found to have the same yellow coloured packaging as unexploded cluster bomblets.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst

£300 - £350 per day: Orgtel: Job Title: Business Analyst Rate: £300 - £350 per...

C# .NET Developer

£290 - £291 per day + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Manchester C#.NET ...

SAP FICO Consultant - Midlands - Contract

£450 - £500 per day: Progressive Recruitment: SAP FICO Consultant - Midlands -...

SAP PROJECT MANAGER

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MAN...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform