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The BBC's Peter Biles reports
"Last year Britain suspended the export of spares"
 real 28k

Thursday, 20 January, 2000, 15:43 GMT
Row over jet exports to Zimbabwe

Foreign Office insists no decision has been made yet

Prime Minister Tony Blair is under fire for giving the go-ahead for jet spares to be sold to Zimbabwe.

Mr Blair overruled Foreign Secretary Robin Cook to allow the sale of spare parts for Zimbabwe's Hawk warplanes.

Zimbabwe has reportedly used the British-made Hawks to back the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo against rebel forces.

This would leave the UK government open to accusations that it had breached its stated aim of following an ethical foreign policy.

Tony Blair reported to have 'overruled' Foreign Secretary

The information about the sale of the parts originally emerged from a leaked Foreign Office document.

But a Foreign Office spokesman denied any decision had yet been reached on the matter.

"Discussions are continuing and a decision will be announced shortly," he said.

"All new licence applications worldwide will be considered against the government's stringent national criteria and the European Union code of conduct."

Zimbabwe is deeply involved in the bloody Congolese civil war, contributing an estimated 11,000 troops to defend the government of President Laurent Kabila.

The country is thought to have around 10 Hawk jets, bought from the UK in the early 1980s.

'Ethical policy remains'

Commons Leader Margaret Beckett insisted Britain was still pursuing an "ethical" foreign policy, during a Commons exchange.

Liberal Democrat Jenny Tonge called for an urgent debate on the effect of the arms trade on foreign policy and said it was "obvious" the governemnt had dropped its humanitarian concerns.

But Mrs Beckett said: "I don't accept that the government has abandoned an ethical dimension to its foreign policy.

Cook advocates ethical foreign policy
"It is difficult for those who accept there is legitimacy in some arms sales. Those who oppose all arms sales in a sense have an easy wicket on which to stand and so there will always be matters of difficulty and dispute."

Earlier, Donald Anderson, Labour chairman of the Commons foreign affairs select committee, said he understood the need for British companies to meet contractual obligations.

But he added: "My judgement, certainly on the reports we have had thus far, is that there should be delay for this reason - at the moment, Zimbabwe is involved in a futile foreign war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"Over 10,000 soldiers involved. There are going to be peace talks, brokered by the US, starting on Monday. Now is not the time to supply those spare parts."

'War of aggression'

But Shadow foreign secretary John Maples said: "Zimbabwe has an appalling record on human rights, economic mismanagement, government corruption and abuse of aid.

"Tony Blair's decision to sell them parts for Hawk fighter jets shows what a shambles Labour's ethical foreign policy is in.

"Zimbabwe is involved in a war of aggression in the Democratic Republic of Congo which is costing it 1m a day. This has caused the IMF to suspend loans to the country.

"If there are any countries in the world to which Robin Cook's ethical foreign policy should prevent arms sales, Zimbabwe is clearly one of them."

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell said: "It is high time that the searchlight of public scrutiny was directed at the secretive Whitehall decisions on arms exports.

"It is simply not acceptable in a modern, democratic system that Parliament should be unable to scrutinise decisions which have significant international consequences and are deeply damaging to Britain's reputation abroad."

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See also:
20 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Charting the Hawk's success
20 Jan 00 |  Africa
Zimbabwe's costly Congo venture
17 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Act on arms exports, warns Scott
12 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Pakistan arms exports 'splits' cabinet
17 Jan 00 |  Africa
Zimbabwe 'frees soldiers' in Congo
02 Dec 99 |  Africa
Zimbabwean soldiers cut off in Congo
25 Nov 99 |  Africa
Zimbabwe losses add up in Congo
05 Aug 99 |  UK Politics
MPs urge arms trade clampdown
03 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
UK arms exports under scrutiny

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