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Monday, 4 February, 2002, 15:21 GMT
Archbishop wants 'moral' arms sales
Most Rev Rowan Williams Archbishop of Wales
The call is the latest political demand from Dr Williams
The bookmakers' favourite to become the next Archbishop of Canterbury has called on the UK government to tighten restrictions on arms sales to developing countries.

Archbishop of Wales, the Most Rev Rowan Williams, joined a group of more than 40 Anglican bishops pushing for changes which would stop nations getting into debt.

Responsibility is needed in arms sales, bishops say
The bishops - including the Bishop of London and outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury Dr George Carey - want amendments to the Export Control Bill currently passing through the House of Lords.

It is the latest highly political moral salvo from Dr Williams, who many have tipped to take over from retiring Dr Carey in October.

In January, he denounced military action in Afghanistan as "morally tainted" and was shouted down by senior backbencher Ann Clwyd MP and Falklands veteran Simon Weston.

The outspoken theologian's views may bode for an uneasy relationship between the Church and the government should he be elected.

'Irresponsible wastage'

He supported the Bishop of Oxford's letter to The Times newspaper on Monday demanding tighter controls in the Bill to "prevent irresponsible arms sales wasting the resources of poor countries."

Britain should no longer license arms sales that would undermine poor countries

Letter from bishops
"It is one thing when military equipment is bought by a government which needs it to defend its population according to international law," the letter said.

"It is quite another when British companies persuade governments to spend huge amounts on equipment beyond their needs and their means.

Dr Williams joined the hoarde of prominent bishops in criticising the UK hovernment's sale of a sophisticated 28m military air defence system to Tanzania.

The deal was done in December 2001 amid opposition from charities, defence analysts and the World Bank, which said the money would be better spent on the African nation's health and education facilities.

'Undermining nations'

"This is the sort of case the bill must control," the letter continued.

"To do that, it must clearly state that Britain will no longer license arms sales that would undermine the development of poor countries."

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr George Carey
Dr Carey has announced he is retire
The biggest purchasers of arms are the United Arab Emirates, India and South Korea, according to a US Congress report published in August 2001.

But, in January 2000, UK Chancellor Gordon Brown banned the sale of arms on credit to 63 of the world's poorest nations.

Forty nations were already covered by the ban on export credit guarantees and Mr Brown extended the rules to countries including Cambodia, Mongolia and Eritrea.

But the Conservatives attacked the move as an "empty gesture," claiming the nations covered by the extension were not the prime consumers of weapons from the UK.

Archbishop Williams, who was close to New York's World Trade Centre when terrorists flew passenger planes in to the twin towers, now wants that ban extended to cover the most poor and relatively well-off Third World nations.

The identity of the next Archbishop of Canterbury has yet to be decided by the prime minister.

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