Trade ministry takes the flak over jacket licences

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The Independent Online
SOME bitter lessons from the Iraqi supergun affair have been learnt by the Department of Trade and Industry and Her Majesty's Customs and Excise. In their new- found zeal they are trying to stop journalists and aid workers from illegally 'smuggling' flak jackets out of Britain, particularly to Bosnia.

The first step of the DTI's and HM Custom Excise's new vigilance was made in a letter to the BBC and other television news organisations, warning them that flak jackets are considered to be military goods, and therefore need export licences.

'The prime purpose of export controls is to prevent goods going to destinations or end-users of concern. We appreciate that the use of protective equipment by reporters and others for their personal safety in such destinations is not likely to defeat this purpose,' the DTI letter concedes, 'but we consider it important to minimise, through the licensing system, the risk that the equipment might end up in the wrong hands'.

The flak jackets have become de rigueur for journalists and humanitarian agency employees working in the former Yugoslav republic. To travel in some areas such as Mostar or Sarajevo without out this vital piece of equipment would be tantamount to playing Russian roulette. In fact, journalists wishing to travel to the Bosnian capital on United Nations flights will only be allowed on board if they are in possession of both a flak jacket and a helmet.

It is getting more dangerous, however, for aid workers and journalists to wear bullet- proof vests in wartime Sarajevo than to go around without them. One journalist who now leaves his flak jacket in his room despite the threat from snipers said: 'I have less chance of being robbed without it.'