S. Africa exporting arms to ‘repressive regimes’

(AFP) – Apr 10, 2011

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa has exported millions of dollars’ worth of arms to some of the world’s most repressive regimes, a weekly newspaper said on Sunday, citing a classified government weapons report.

Africa’s largest arms exporter has sold weapons to five of the 10 least democratic states on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index and 10 of the 25 worst performers on the Global Peace Index, which ranks nations by their peacefulness, according to The Sunday Independent.

The paper cites Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Burundi, China, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen as countries with questionable democracy and human rights records that have received South African weapons.

The government last year approved the sale of 35 billion rand ($5.3 billion, 3.6 billion euros) in arms to 78 countries, the Independent said, citing the annual report of the National Conventional Arms Control Committee, which officials have kept under wraps.

Of that total, the paper identified more than one billion rand in sales to repressive regimes.

South Africa’s arms sales have been under the spotlight since opposition politicians accused the government of selling weapons to Libya, which they said leader Moamer Kadhafi’s forces may now be using against civilians in the country’s deepening conflict.

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, who chairs the arms control committee, told parliament South Africa had exported 81 million rand ($12 million, eight million euros) in weapons to Libya from 2003 to 2009, but said at the time there was no indication the arms would be used on civilians.

South Africa’s arms control act requires the committee to vet exports by the country’s $2.6-billion defence industry to ensure they will not be used for anything but « legitimate defence and security needs ».

South Africa developed a home-grown defence industry during the apartheid era, when the white-minority regime was under a UN arms embargo.

The industry lost much of its government funding after the first democratic elections in 1994, turning to overseas sales to fill the gap.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, South Africa was the world’s 15th largest arms exporter from 2006 to 2010.

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