UK and France bid to halt trade in arms to Africa Africa arms trading

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN AND France, for so long rivals in Africa, yesterday vowed to use their new-found collaboration in the continent to tackle the conflicts which bedevil it, specifically by acting against the trade in arms and the clandestine diamond selling which is used to finance it.

Speaking after a joint meeting with their opposite numbers from Kenya, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and Gabon - two Anglophone and two Francophone African countries - Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary and Hubert Vedrine, the French Foreign Minister, stressed how Africa's problems all too often stretched into Europe.

"The small arms used in these conflicts come from Europe, and the diamonds which are used to pay for them are sold in Europe," Mr Cook said. "Much of the debt of Africa is held by European banks. But banks in Europe also often hold the illicit wealth of African dictators."

The next step will be a special meeting next year to finalise detailed strategies on these issues, in which France and Britain, both permanent members of the United Nations Security Council as well as being the former dominant colonial powers in sub-Saharan Africa, would be setting the lead.

"There is no such thing as separate French and British interests on debt, poverty, conflict and the promotion of good government in Africa," declared Mr Vedrine and Mr Cook, who last March symbolically buried the hatchet of a century of rivalry with a joint visit to the Ivory Coast and Ghana, former French and British colonies in West Africa.

British officials believe, moreover, that private talks on the sidelines of this week's UN general assembly in New York will persuade the United States - traditionally reluctant to be sucked into African affairs - to throw its weight behind the initiative. This could lead to the three countries together training African troops for peace-keeping missions in the continent.

But for all the efforts to give a higher profile to African affairs at the UN, and to push Africa higher up the policy agenda in London, Paris and Washington, diplomats acknowledge that Africans must take the lead themselves.

Privately, British officials argue that the key to success in intervening to tackle humanitarian crises lies not so much in direct involvement by Britain and France or even the US, as in enlisting the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) as a "regional agent" for the UN. But this will be easier said than done.

Even as the British and French foreign ministers were setting out the case for closer European involvement in solving Africa's manifold crises, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, which holds the OAU chair, was warning against intervention without the express invitation of the sovereign state.

"We mustn't use particular cases to construct a general theory for intervention, and to justify the unjustifiable" Mr Bouteflika said, adding that the term "crimes against humanity" was being too loosely used in support of intervention.

"The Holocaust was a crime against humanity," he said. "But we had an eight-year independence war in Algeria [between 1954 and 1962] where more than a million people were killed and which verged on genocide. But no one referred to it then as a "crime against humanity."