LONDON: British arms sales to Africa have risen to record levels over the last four years and have reached the £1 billion mark, The Observer can reveal. Analysis of official figures shows annual weapons sales almost quadrupled between 1999 and 2004. Campaigners and MPs called the increase ‘obscene’ and ‘unacceptable’ at a time when the government is putting so much political capital into relieving poverty in Africa.

Many exports approved by the Department of Trade and Industry involved in selling arms to some of the most deprived states and to countries with poor human rights records.

Among the most controversial exports since 2000 discovered by The Observer are:

  • More than £30 million of military equipment sold to Angola, including armoured vehicles and body armour.

  • Export licences granted by the DTI last year to sell £3.6m of military equipment to Malawi, one of the least developed nations in the world.

  • Licences for military exports granted to Eritrea, Ethiopia, Algeria, Sudan, Zambia, Uganda, Namibia and Somalia.

  • Arms sales to South Africa that trebled last year to £114m, including components for combat aircraft, missiles and radar.

  • UK arms sales to Nigeria up tenfold since 2000 to £53m, including armoured vehicles and large calibre artillery. According to the DTI’s annual reports, specific licences for arms sales to Africa total more than £631m since 2000. But experts believe the true figure is closer to £1bn when the value of ‘open’ licences are taken into account. Such licences allow for smaller arms sales to take place with much less scrutiny from officials.

    Paul Eavis, director of Saferworld, which campaigns for the control of the arms trade, said: “The government is to be congratulated on leading the charge on debt relief, but if it is serious about helping Africa develop as a continent, then it should think again about its arms sales policies towards these countries.”

    Andrew George, Liberal Democratic spokesman on international development, said: “It would seem obscene that at a time when one arm of government is focusing on debt relief, behind the scenes another arm is boosting this unacceptable trade.”

    In 2004 the global total spent on munitions rose above $1 trillion for the first time since the height of the Cold War. In contrast, the amount spent on aid over the same period was $78.6bn.

    The DTI refused to comment on any of the arms export licences it had approved to Africa, on the ground that such transactions were subject to commercial confidentiality.—Dawn/The Observer News Service

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