The UK government appears to be withholding information on the countries issued with official invitations to next week's London arms fair, Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEi).
The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) today (9 September) accused ministers of hiding "embarrassing truths".
DSEi will take place at London's Excel Centre from 13-16 September. It is owned by Clarion Events but is subsidised and co-organised by the UK government.
The government has published a list of just 37 countries. But CAAT has obtained a copy of a government briefing for defence attaches which states that guests have been invited from 61 countries.
The official list of 37 countries includes none from the Middle East or north Africa. The region includes several of the countries, including Saudi Arabia.which buy a significant number of arms from UK-based companies.
A copy of "DSEi 2011 - Defence Attache and VIP briefing document" obtained by CAAT states: "The importance of DSEi to nations around the world is evidenced by the number of countries that have been invited by the British government to attend this year’s event; 125 individual invitations have been extended to 61 countries so far".
This figure is similar to that of invitations issued by the government in previous years. Bahrain, Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia all received official invitations to DSEi 2009.
CAAT says that the UK government "seems extremely reluctant to shed any light" on the identity of the "missing 24 countries". CAAT's questions under the Freedom of Information Act have gone unanswered.
While Middle Eastern and north African countries are absent from the government's published list, arms promotion to the region appears to be continuing unabated.
A government-backed seminar yesterday (8 September) focused on arms sales opportunities in the Middle East. It was attended by arms dealers along with representatives of UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), a unit of Vince Cable's Department for Business that promotes British exports. The event was supported by the London Chamber of Commerce and the Royal Bank of Scotland.
Sarah Waldron, CAAT's Core Campaigner, said, "In June 2010, junior defence minister Peter Luff stated that the coalition government was 'not embarrassed' by arms sales. Yet it is being very bashful about telling us who has been invited to the arms fair."
She continued, "Unfortunately, this is clearly nothing more than an attempt to avoid criticism while it continues to spend taxpayers' money promoting arms sales to repressive regimes".
CAAT is one of twenty organisations to form the Stop the Arms Fair coalition, which includes NGOs, residents' groups and five Christian organisations. The London arms fair has now been formally criticised by four major British Christian denominations - Baptists, Methodists, Quakers and the United Reformed Church.
A wave of protests is expected to greet the arms fair next week, including lawful demonstrations, direct action, street theatre, a multifaith vigil and a mass lobby of MPs.
"DSEi is more than just an embarrassment," said Waldron, "It is an outrage and it should not go ahead at all".