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[TamilNet, Tuesday, 02 June 2009, 13:01 GMT]
Britain sold £13.6m worth of arms to Sri Lanka in the past three years despite Colombo’s widespread abuse of human rights, The Times newspaper reported. Whilst the United States suspended arms sales in 2008, Britain, Bulgaria and Slovakia continued to arm President Mahinda Rajapakse’s ultra-nationalist government. The sales contravened the 1998 EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports that restricts business with countries facing internal conflicts or with poor human rights records and a history of violating international law. The arms were sold as international ceasefire monitors, human rights groups and Tamil Diaspora repeatedly protested Sri Lanka’s rights abuses.
The sales were cleared despite the 1998 EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, which restricts transfers to countries facing internal conflicts or with poor human rights records and a history of violating international law.
The paper also pointed out that the weapons were approved while the EU called for peace talks in Sri Lanka, saying that it did not support a military solution, and expressing concerns about human rights abuses after the collapse of a 2002 ceasefire.
The approval of the sales raises the question of whether EU supplied weapons were used in the last five months during which UN officials estimate that 20,000 civilians were killed.
The answer is almost certainly yes.
Sri Lanka’s military fired repeated salvos of rockets from Multi-Barreled Rocket Launchers (MBRLs) as well as artillery howitzers at hundreds of thousands of people crammed into narrow areas designated ‘safe zones’.
British MPs and MEPs, as well as activists against the arms trade, said that the EU should have done the same as the United States in suspending arms sales as early as 2006, when the ceasefire began to unravel.
“The EU had an obligation not to supply these things,” said Malcolm Bruce, a Liberal Democrat MP who visited Sri Lanka last month. “There were too many unanswered questions. With hindsight, Britain’s sales did violate the EU code of conduct.”
The EU Code of Conduct became legally binding in December, but until then it was up to member states to decide whether the criteria applied to any given arms sale.
Interestingly, Britain had disputed Slovakia’s decision to supply rockets to Sri Lanka but approved its own arms sales at the time.
Britain approved commercial sales of more than £13.6 million of equipment including armoured vehicles, machinegun components and semiautomatic pistols, according to official records.
Slovakia provided 10,000 rockets worth £1.1 million, while Bulgaria approved sales of guns and ammunition worth £1.75 million, according to EU documents and officials.
According to research conducted by The Times, arms sales approved by the British Government included:
2008: £4 million of equipment including military sonar detection items and components; components for aircraft military communications equipment and military communications equipment
2007: £1 million of equipment including ejector seats, grenades, ground vehicle military communications equipment, military parachutes
2006: £8.6 million of equipment including 50 semi-automatic pistols, components for combat aircraft, military aircraft communications equipment, armoured all-wheel-drive vehicles, components for general purpose and heavy machineguns, small arms ammunition