Government accused of hypocrisy over arms sales
The Government has been accused of hypocrisy for allowing arms sales worth £16m to central African nations embroiled in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
British companies sold shotguns, pistols, helmets and body armour to Angola, Namibia, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Zimbabwe between 1999 and 2001.
As early as 1997, the charge of "hypocrisy" was levelled by Christians over the Government's "ethical" foreign policy, which allowed arms sales to continue.
Groups such as the Movement for Christian Democracy and (Christian) Campaign Against the Arms Trade pointed out that commercial arms sales were still being promoted using Government resources.
Some Christians however defended the Government at the time. In an editorial, the Church of England Newspaper suggested that it was "too soon to be critical".
The Government - which announced last week that it was considering joining a peace-keeping force planned for the north-eastern DRC - said that careful checks were made on arms exports to central Africa to ensure they could not make their way to the DRC.
But critics said that the sales were still underminilng government promises to apply an "ethical dimension" to foreign policy - and warned it would be impossible to keep track of the equipment once it had arrived in central Africa.
In 1999, sales to the region included £3m of body armour and helmets to Angola and armoured vehicles to Uganda. The following year, UK companies sold £1m of body armour and assault rifles to Namibia and £1m of military vehicles to Zimbabwe.
In 2001, the most recent year for which arms sales figures were released, Angola bought £8m of military and armoured vehicles, while machine pistols and weapon-cleaning equipment was sent to Uganda.
Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat MP and campaigner on the crisis in the DRC, said: "This makes claims of an ethical policy a sham. The Government has been hypocritical on this issue. We are talking about four and a half million African lives that have been lost over five years and British companies are profiting from it. There's blood on the Government's hands over this."
A spokesman for Amnesty International said: "The fact that the UK has relatively recently licensed the export of armoured vehicles to Angola and Uganda - two nations heavily involved in Africa's so-called world war - raises fresh questions about the Government's ability to properly regulate the arm trade.
"The question that should be asked is - can the British Government account for the whereabouts of its equipment and can it guarantee it has not fallen into the hands of warring militias committing massacres in eastern Congo?"
A spokesman for Saferworld, an anti-arms sales pressure group, said the granting of licences proved the need for tougher scrutiny of the weapons trade. "It is encouraging that the Government are considering sending troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo as an effective peace-keeping force is desperately needed. This must be backed up, though, by tougher arms export controls," he said.
The Foreign Office has said that each licence granted was checked against the risk that the arms could be used in internal suppression or external aggression. Much of the 2001 sales to Angola were said to be for the oil industry.
In February 2000, Tony Blair announced that the Government would not grant arms export licences to countries involved in the DRC, if there was a "clear risk" that they could be used in the conflict.
One month earlier, the Prime Minister faced anger after he overruled the Foreign Secretary at the time, Robin Cook, and gave the all-clear for parts for Hawk jets to be sent to Zimbabwe, which was known to be involved in the fighting in the DRC.