Saudi Arabia has sent scores of UK-made armoured personnel carriers into Bahrain to aid the government's bloody suppression of pro-democracy protesters. The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has criticised the UK government for allowing the sale of the armoured vehicles, made by BAE Systems.
The vehicles, marketed as Tacticas, were manufactured by BAE Systems Land Systems Division in Newcastle-upon-Tyne with final assembly taking place in Belgium.
The Saudi Arabia National Guard (SANG) ordered 261 of the vehicles in 2006 for delivery in 2008. Saudi forces entered Bahrain in a convoy of the Tacticas on 13 March, at the invitation of Bahrain's ruling al-Khalifa family.
It seems that the Saudi forces are being held in reserve, leaving the front-line repression of protesters to Bahrain's military.
CAAT’s Kaye Stearman said today (16 March), “It is shameful that a British manufactured armoured vehicle is being used by Saudi Arabia to support repression of peaceful protest in a neighbouring country”.
CAAT called for “an immediate arms embargo on the Middle East and an end to arms exports to all repressive regimes”.
Saudi Arabia has been a major market for UK arms since the 1960s. The majority of contracts have been through the controversial Al-Yamamah arms deals of the mid-1980s, and their successor, the Salam Project, which involved arms giant BAE (formerly British Aerospace).
However, the Tacticas purchase was not part of either package but a separate contract with SANG.
"BAE's contract to supply the Tacticas has been hidden in the shadow of their massive Al Yamamah arms deals,” said Stearman, “But it still runs into millions of pounds worth of lethal weaponry”.
BAE has long faced criticism from NGOs, faith groups and human rights campaigners for arming oppressive regimes around the world. The company is facing allegations of corruption in five continents.
In December, a High Court judge stated in court that BAE appeared to have benefitted from corrupt payments in Tanzania.
Bahrain is also a market for UK arms. In the first nine months of 2010, the UK approved export licenses for over £5 million worth of arms including tear gas and crowd control ammunition, equipment for the use of aircraft cannons, assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles and sub-machine guns.
In response to an earlier crackdown on 18 February 2011 the UK government revoked 24 individual licences and 20 open licences to Bahrain.