Russia blocks plan to stop African states buying arms

Tony Blair is unlikely to even raise the issue at Gleneagles after Russia made clear it would block a firm commitment to such an international agreement being included in the summit declaration on Friday.

Pressure groups say Russia sells more arms to sub-Saharan Africa than any other G8 nation, with $700m (£360m) of sales between 2000 and 2003. That means Russia provides almost a quarter of all the arms bought by sub-Saharan countries. The US, the next biggest seller, sold $95m worth of arms to the region in the same period.

British government sources said yesterday the proposal for a binding treaty was not expected to be discussed at Gleneagles but would be "taken forward" by officials of the G8 nations after discussion by their foreign ministers last month. However, little progress is likely next year because Russia will take over the G8 presidency from Britain for 12 months in January.

One of the recommendations of the Commission for Africa set up by Mr Blair was for negotiations on an international arms treaty to be opened no later than next year. It said many of the largest manufacturers, exporters and brokers of arms to Africa were in G8 and EU countries, warning that loopholes in control agreements were being exploited by many countries, companies and arms brokers.

Jo Leadbeater, Oxfam's head of advocacy, said: "Whatever pledges are made on tackling poverty, they risk being undermined if the G8 leaders do not act decisively to regulate the arms trade. Arms control is a life-or-death matter for millions of people in developing countries and the G8 leaders must treat it as such. The G8 leaders must call for a legally binding arms trade treaty, which includes all conventional weapons. Anything less might salve the G8's consciences, but it will not save lives."

Campaign groups have accused G8 leaders of double standards, warning that selling billions of pounds of weapons to African nations takes vital resources away from projects on health, education, food and water and allows some regimes to repress their own people.

In a report last month, Oxfam, Amnesty International and other groups said Britain was the second biggest arms supplier to Africa as a whole with exports estimated at $4.3bn between 1996 and 2003, less than America's $15.18bn but more than other G8 nations.