Over thirty leading UK church figures from a range of traditions including Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Anglican and United Reformed have joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation 's new 'Stop Living by the Sword' campaign.
The campaign, initiated by the Christian peacemaking group, coincides with the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Defence Export Services Organisation (DESO), the agency responsible for encouraging and supporting UK companies to export arms and military equipment overseas.
Three Catholic bishops - the Rt Rev Terence Brain, Bishop of Salford, the Rt Rev Thomas McMahon, Bishop of Brentwood and the Rt Rev Patrick O'Donoghue, Bishop of Lancaster ñ are among those who have signed the ecumenical statement, which calls calling for the closure of DESO, originally established by Labour defence minister Denis Healey in 1966.
Since that time both Conservative and Labour governments have pushed and subsidised arms exports, often to countries with known records for violating human rights. There has been a long-standing Christian network within the UK Campaign Against Arms Trade, which was founded in 1974.
The Defence Export Services Organisation admits that it takes what it calls ìa pro-active rather than reactive approachî to the promotion of sales internationally.
A confidential DESO report released this week, under the Freedom of Information Act, reveals that Iraq and Libya are now 'priority' markets for the DESO, as are Colombia and Kazakhstan, both widely criticised for human rights violation.
The British were among those who armed both sides in the Iran-Iraq war, and before the West decided that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, his regime was strengthened by Western arms.
Fellowship of Reconciliation director Chris Cole said: "We and our partners, many of whom are working in great danger and difficulty, are extremely pleased that UK church leaders are backing the call to close DESO."
The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FoR) together with Campaign Against Arms Trade and a number of other organisations are holding a DESO Day of Action on Monday 16t October 2006.
The action will include the encircling of the Defence Export Services Organisation offices in central London by a human chain. This will be accompanied by a Lobby of Parliament and by a prayer meeting at Bloomsbury Baptist Church.
[Also on Ekklesia: Arms trade is a new slave trade, says Desmond Tutu  03/10/06; Faith leaders appeal against global arms bazaar  04/10/06; Resources: The Christian Network of the Campaign Against Arms Trade  in the UK; UK Christians step up anti-arms trade work ; Named: 'Dirty dozen' local authorities trying to profit from arms trade ; Campaigners gear up for world's largest arms fair ; C of E's disinvestment vote increases risk for arms dealers say campaigners ; Canadian church marks global week of action against small arms ]