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Last Updated: Friday, 17 October, 2003, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
UK arms pledge 'abandoned'
Arms fair protesters meet police at DSEI arms fair in Docklands
Anti-arms protesters recently disrupted an arms fair in London
A manifesto pledge to clamp down on British arms dealers trading overseas has been abandoned by the government, campaigners say.

Charities including Oxfam and Amnesty International say a Labour promise to stop arms brokers dealing "wherever they are located" has been dropped.

The accusation comes ahead of the government responding to an MPs committee which made recommendations on tightening arms legislation.

The committee, backed by the charities, has called on the government to close a loophole in new legislation which it says allows UK citizens overseas to avoid arms dealing restrictions in place at home.

Limits on overseas breaches

In May the Commons Quadripartite committee - made up of MPs responsible for monitoring defence, foreign affairs and international development - warned the latest proposed arms legislation said the government would only act "extraterritorially" in limited circumstances.

These include when British citizens are dealing in weapons of mass destruction, long-range missiles or torture equipment, or selling to countries subject to arms embargoes.

Tragically, [the government] appears to have... brushed aside our concerns
Roger Berry MP
Commons committee chairman
However, failing to police overseas trafficking in small arms could also result in widespread deaths and misery, the report said.

"Failure to control all arms trafficking and brokering by UK citizens means that British-sold weapons will continue to end up being used to slaughter civilians, violate basic human rights and destroy lives in conflicts across the world," the committee's chairman Roger Berry said.

He continued: "Our committee urged the government to tighten up the Act.

"Tragically, they appear to have... brushed aside our concerns."

'Not practical'

The government says it is has introduced some of the world's strictest export controls.

New legislation to be introduced by the end of the month will make it impossible for British arms brokers to sell long-range missiles and instruments of torture to anyone.

But trying to place strict controls on small arms abroad dealing is not practical, the government says.

Labour MP Barry Gardiner - a long-time campaigner for greater regulation of the arms trade - said the government's position was "neither morally right nor politically astute".

"This government has done more than any other to improve conditions in developing countries but all the billions of debt relief cannot compensate for the hundreds of thousands of lives that are lost in conflict zones throughout the world each year," he said.

"This legislation is a dream for illicit arms dealers. All they will do is hop on the train to Paris for lunch, sign their deal and return back to the UK in the afternoon, knowing they can't be prosecuted."

Only an arms trade treaty can plug all the gaps that national governments seem unable or unwilling to fill
Lesley Warner
Amnesty International

Anti-arms dealing campaigners insist that is not enough.

A coalition of charities which last week launched a campaign - Control Arms - calling on governments to cooperate to stop arms proliferation has backed Dr Berry's committee recommendations.

Control Arms has been set up by Amnesty International, Oxfam and International Action Network on Small Arms (Iansa).

"The broken promises will mean lost lives as British-sold weapons continue to get into the wrong hands," said Oxfam director Barbara Stocking.

Amnesty International's Lesley Warner said the government's actions were "scandalous".

Shopping around for weapons
09 Sep 03  |  Business

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