Rifkind woos SA with arms

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The Independent Online

Defence Correspondent

Malcolm Rifkind, the Secretary of State for Defence, begins a week-long visit to Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe today, to promote exports of British defence equipment and expertise. South Africa, with its long coastline, is particularly interested in warships.

He will visit the British military advisers who are helping to unite the former South African army and the ANC forces. But, it will be some time before the new force is ready to undertake peace-keeping operations elsewhere in Africa. Mr Rifkind said he expected it to play an important role, as South Africa has "an undeniable influence and resonance throughout the whole continent".

Mr Rifkind said a decision to send 600 British troops to Angola had not been made. But, if the ceasefire holds, they are likely to be sent soon. There are no plans to send British troops to Burundi, he added.

Mr Rifkind is to arrive in Windhoek, Namibia, this morning, accompanied by the Defence Export Services Organisation's director of marketing, Charles Masefield. On Sunday, he is to fly to South Africa, visiting Pretoria, Cape Town and Johannesburg. He is expected to call on the Defence Minister, Joe Modrise, the British Military Advisory Team and a "defence industrial site". On Wednesday, he is to fly to Zimbabwe, where he will also see the British military team.

"We recognise South Africa has a large number of immediate priorities," he said. "The integration of the former South African army with the ANC is a major task. In the longer term, if it develops as a stabilising force in the region, I have no doubt it will have a useful contribution to make. But there are severe practical limits on what is achievable at the moment."

The most promising equipment order is for four corvettes - fast warships smaller than frigates - for the South African navy. Mr Rifkind said he would give "full support" to a bid by Yarrow shipbuilders, on the Clyde, to provide the vessels.

He did not comment on South Africa's offer of Rooivalk helicopters to meet the British army's requirement for almost 100 "flying tanks".