Uzbekistan: Andijan massacre raises questions over UK arms trade
- Andijan massacre raises questions over UK arms trade
By Jerome Taylor
Published: 27 April 2006
The British Government has failed to close a "massive
loophole" in its arms trade laws which allowed the
Uzbek authorities to use UK-designed vehicles in the
More than 500 people were killed in May last year when
Uzbek troops opened fire on protesters from two
columns of armoured cars. Pictures emerged after the
massacre showing that Defender vehicles, designed by
Land Rover, were used by troops to fire on the crowds.
The Defenders used in Andijan were manufactured by
Otokar, a Turkish company, and donated to the Uzbek
authorities by the Turkish government, but the chassis
design and technology is British.
A loophole in current legislation means the vehicles,
some of which would be classified as military
equipment and require a licence if sold directly from
Britain, are not covered by arms export laws because
they are not assembled in the UK.
A spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry
said that while the Government took allegations of
flaws in the UK export control regime seriously, the
onward sale of Defender kits was beyond its control
because the chassis are civilian technology.
Land Rover has said the vehicles used in Andijan were
"the same as that used by farmers and four-wheel drive
enthusiasts" and that what happens to the vehicles
after they have been sold is "clearly outside the
control of Land Rover". But a former senior manager
from Land Rover said many of the kits sold to Otokar
incorporated a military chassis that would normally be
licensable in the UK. But he did not know whether the
Andijan vehicles had such chassis. "There is a
military version," he said. "If we were actually to
put the whole vehicle together on a military chassis
in the UK and try and sell it to someone that would
then be licensable."
Neither Land Rover nor the Government has broken the
law by selling equipment to Turkey but campaigners
want the chassis licensed to stop countries such as
Uzbekistan, now under an EU arms embargo, from
obtaining British technology through third parties.
Anna Macdonald, director of the control arms campaigns
at Oxfam, said: "These vehicles are made from 75 per
cent British parts, but simply by assembling them
overseas, a company can completely avoid British
export controls. The Government must urgently close
this loophole, and... kick-start negotiations on an
arms trade treaty. Whether a weapon comes in pieces,
or is ready-made, the suffering it causes... is
exactly the same."
Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, expressed the UK's
strong support for an international treaty at a speech
to the Lord Mayor's Easter Banquet last night.
Turkey has donated 50 Otokar Defenders, which can be
fitted with an array of weaponry and armour, to
President Islam Karimov's regime in Uzbekistan.
Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK's director, said:
"For years we have called for these loopholes to be
closed. We saw at Andijan what happens when these
calls are ignored."
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