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Last Updated: Monday, 7 June, 2004, 18:16 GMT 19:16 UK
Criticism after arms exports rise
SA80 assault rifle
Assault rifles were among exports to Saudi Arabia
A rise in the value of British arms exports last year has prompted anger from leading charities.

New government figures show 992.4m worth of military equipment was sold, with Saudi Arabia the biggest buyer.

Oxfam raised concerns the number of small arms exports had doubled. It suggested controls had been relaxed for some allies in the "War on terror".

But the government says there are no special favours, and insists there are "strict" controls on every export.

Allies first?

The annual report on strategic export controls shows the total arms export value up from 942m the previous year.

After Saudi Arabia, the biggest destinations were the United States and Malaysia.

But Oxfam highlighted the fact export licences to Afghanistan and Pakistan had both doubled and there had been a 43% increase for Jordan, a key British ally in the Middle East.

BRITISH ARMS BUYERS
Saudi Arabia: 189.33m
United States: 116.3m
Malaysia: 97.26m
All nations: 992.4m
Source: Strategic arms controls report

The charity was also concerned small arms sale numbers had risen from 2,677 to 5,505.

Oxfam policy director Justin Forsyth said: "The government has promised to clean up its act on arms sales but despite some progress they continue to arm human rights abusers across the globe."

He added: "The government must not allow the war on terror to undermine its arms controls yet further."

'Strict controls'

The Campaign Against Arms Trade criticised the issuing of 12.5m in weapons sales licences to Indonesia, saying such equipment could easily be used for internal repression.

But a Foreign Office spokeswoman said arms sales to Indonesia had fallen.

And she said every licence application was examined individually against "very strict criteria" designed to ensure arms were not used for internal repression or external aggression.

"There is no question of any trade-off in the war against terror operations," the spokeswoman told BBC News Online.

'Open system'

Asked about the rise in small arms sales, she said the numbers were still small. The government was at the forefront of trying to build international agreement on strengthening controls on small arms transfers.

Foreign Office Minister Baroness Symons said the report showed the government was making arms exports transparent.

"This government introduced the UK's first ever published arms export licensing criteria and we are leading the global effort to develop common international standards on arms exports.

"Our export controls system is both rigorous and among the most open in the world."


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