Details emerge of SA's vast arms bazaar

REVELATIONS that South Africa sold Saddam Hussein billions of dollars worth of arms in the 1980s have raised the possibility that the Iraqi leader used the weapons to attack a key ally of the then white minority government, Israel, in the Gulf war.

A figure of dollars 4.5bn (pounds 3bn), the alleged price tag for sales of South Africa's G-5 howitzers with a range of nearly 30 miles, cluster bombs and kits to upgrade missile systems, has emerged from a suit lodged in a Pretoria court by a Palestinian businessman, Walid Saffouri. He has accused Armscor and its international marketing agency, Nimrod International, and a Zimbabwean family, the Cochranes, producers of cluster bombs, of conspiracy to defraud him of his 11 per cent commission, worth dollars 495m.

A spokesman for Denel, as Armscor is now known, would not confirm the sales or the price tag, although he said if the weapons had been sold, they were not exchanged for Iraqi oil as some reports suggested. Denel announced last week a dollars 120m sale to Oman of G-6 howitzers, a mobile armoured version of the G-5, with ammunition and training. The sale may be the first of many, now the arms embargo against South Africa has been lifted. Officials at Mechem, Denel's research arm, have said they hope to sell Britain their mobile armoured car, the Mamba.

The G-5 and G-6, rated by some experts as the best howitzers in the world, gained fame in southern Angola in the 1987-88 battle for Cuito Cuanavale, considered the biggest engagement in Africa since the Second World War. The weapon is devastingly accurate up to 28 miles. The Cyprus-based Mr Saffouri, whose Silver Falcon Enterprises is based in the Channel Islands, has claimed that he brokered the sales with Iraqi officials but has not received his full payment from Armscor.

South Africa's links to the Middle East were strong with Israel, which co-operated with Armscor in the development of the Cheetah attack plane, a modified version of the Israeli Kfir, the Olifant tank, based on the British Centurion, and the Kukri air-to-air missile.

Western military observers in Angola have said up to 10 Israeli pilots are flying jets in support of South African mercenaries fighting on behalf of the government against Jonas Savimbi's Unita rebel movement, which, ironically, South Africa supported during the battle for Cuito Cuanavale.

The Angolan government announced last December that it had expelled 18 employees of a security company called Ango-Segu Ltd, run by a former colonel of Mossad, the Israeli secret service. The government said the company had illegal weapons, and Western military sources in Luanda said they were suspected of passing military intelligence to Unita.

South Africa's Israeli links have come under the spotlight in connection with several mysterious deaths of men involved in the chemical and arms industries. South African newspapers quoted police sources suggesting involvement by Mossad.

The latest casualty was Don Juan Lange, found two weeks ago in his Durban flat with a bag over his head connected to a gas cannister. On 13 November 1991, Mr Lange reportedly led police to two men who had offered to sell him radioactive material, caesium 137, in a lead box, presumed to be destined for the Middle East.

That was four days after the dismembered body of a British immigrant, Alan Kidger, was found in the boot of his car in Soweto, outside Johannesburg. Police believed Mr Kidger was smuggling to the Middle East a substance known as Red Mercury, claimed to provide a cheap detonator for plutonium warheads.

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