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Page last updated at 16:17 GMT, Thursday, 10 April 2008 17:17 UK

Attack on arms sale to Sri Lanka

Special forces, one of Sri Lanka's elite fighting forces, march during a parade to celebrate Sri Lanka's 60th Independence Day
Sri Lankan forces have been fighting Tamil Tiger rebels for 25 years

An arms trade campaigning group has criticised the sale of 10,000 military missiles by Slovakia to Sri Lanka.

The three-metre missiles are designed to be dispatched from multiple rocket launchers.

Symon Hill, from the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), said the sale was "exactly what Sri Lanka doesn't need at the moment".

Sri Lanka has been engaged in civil war for 25 years, and the CAAT fears the weapons may be used against civilians.

Mr Hill says "there are many examples of the Sri Lankan army being accused of the killing of civilians, as often happens in civil wars".

Code of conduct

Analysts say that because the Sri Lankan government bans most independent observers from travelling to the war affected areas, it is impossible to know the full truth.

The European Union, of which Slovakia is a member, has a Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, designed "to prevent the export of equipment which might be used for internal repression or international aggression, or contribute to regional instability".

But Symon Hill of the CAAT says that the Code is "so weak, so vague, with so many loopholes".

He adds that "the EU needs to be realistic about enforcing a code of conduct. Slovakia isn't the only country that appears to have broken the code."

The European Union would not comment on this specific case, but Christiana Hohmann, spokeswoman for Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European commissioner for external relations, said that "how the code is implemented is up to each member country".

The Slovakian Economy Ministry denies that the sale is in violation of the code.

Ministry spokesman Branislav Zvara said that "the UN Security Council's evaluation of the situation in Sri Lanka has not led it to declare an embargo on arms shipments to the country".

The Sri Lankan government ended a formal ceasefire with Tamil Tiger rebels in January.


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