Lawmakers: UK misjudged Middle East arms sales

AP News
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Posted: Apr 05, 2011 11:17 AM
Lawmakers: UK misjudged Middle East arms sales

British lawmakers issued a critical report Tuesday showing that Britain approved sales of shotguns and tear gas to Libya, machine guns and sniper rifles to Bahrain and military technology to Yemen over the last three years.

Parliament's foreign affairs, defense, international development and business committees said in a joint report that ministers failed to consider the implications of weapons sales to the Middle East and elsewhere.

"Both the present government and its predecessor misjudged the risk that arms approved for export to certain authoritarian countries in North Africa and the Middle East might be used for internal repression," the report said.

Following protests that have swept the Middle East and the violent suppression of demonstrations in some countries, Britain has revoked dozens of licenses approving weapons sales to Libya, Bahrain, Tunisia and Egypt.

Ministers also have ordered a review of all arms exports to Bahrain and Yemen, and the U.K. has supported a U.N. arms embargo on Libya.

John Stanley, a governing Conservative Party lawmaker responsible for overseeing the report, said Britain has since been backpedalling on previously approved arms exports.

He said there had been 156 export approvals when the committee was reviewing the material.

He said the report had published for the first time a country-by-country breakdown of the type of weapons approved for export from Britain in 2009 and 2010.

In 2009, licenses were approved to sell combat shotguns, military cargo vehicles and communications equipment to Libya. A year later, ministers sanctioned the sale of infrared and thermal imaging cameras, tear gas and crowd control ammunition.

Licenses to sell assault rifles and aircraft cannons to Bahrain were approved in 2009, and clearance for the sale of smoke grenades, submachine guns and sniper rifles granted the following year.

Defense firms also were given the go-ahead to sell electronic warfare equipment and machine guns to Egypt, ammunition to Tunisia and body armor, night-vision goggles and military camera components to Yemen.

The report disclosed that Britain also approved the sale of cryptography equipment to Syria, helicopter components to Algeria and shotguns to Morocco.

Kaye Stearman, of the lobby group Campaign Against Arms Trade, said the uprisings in the Middle East had acted as a wake-up call to Britain over its arms sales.

She said ministers must decide whether exporting weapons or promoting human rights was its priority. "We have long argued that they can't be reconciled," Stearman said.

Britain's business ministry said it would consider the report's recommendations and report its response to Parliament.

The foreign ministry said work was under way to review its approach to arms sales _ not only in the Middle East and North Africa, but across the world.

"In light of grave concerns about the use of crowd control equipment in recent weeks, we will review how our export controls work for the sale of goods that could be used for internal repression," a Foreign Office spokesman said on customary condition of anonymity in line with policy.