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Britain seeks EU code on arms exports

The Times (Britain) - June 10, 1997

Michael Evans and Edward Yates, Jakarta – Britain wants to persuade its European partners to sign a new code of conduct on arms exports to prevent weapons from reaching regimes that might use them for internal repression.

While Britain is currently ahead of France in the league table of global arms exporters, Tony Lloyd, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, said yesterday that the Government proposed to raise its standards in selling arms abroad and wanted the European Union to follow suit.

Mr Lloyd's statement came after Bishop Carlos Belo of East Timor, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, urged Britain to restrict the arms trade. British weapons are reported to have been used in the conflict in East Timor, which has suffered from insurgency since Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese territory in 1975.

Before meeting Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, last night, the bishop said in a lecture sponsored by Cafod, the Catholic aid agency: "Please, I beg you, restrict still further the conditions under which this trade is permitted. Do not sustain any longer a conflict which, without these sales, could never have been pursued in the first place, nor for so long."

However, Mr Lloyd said that, despite a desire to tighten up on arms exports, the Government supported a strong British defence industry.

"We are one of the major arms exporters in the world but that status carries with it a responsibility, an obligation, to ensure that the arms trade is properly regulated," he said. The Minister was speaking at a seminar on controlling the arms trade, which was organised by Saferworld and the British American Security Information Council, two independent research groups.

Mr Lloyd took up the theme first enunciated by Mr Cook in his policy mission statement in which he underlined the importance of human rights and the need to ensure that arms were not sold to regimes which had a record of abuse.

"We are all aware of concerns that some defence equipment exported from the UK in the past might have been used for internal repression," Mr Lloyd said. One of the most controversial arms sales from Britain was the export of Hawk jets to Indonesia, which has been accused of rights abuses in East Timor. Bishop Belo's visit to London comes at a time of increasing violence there.

Mr Lloyd said the Government would press for greater disclosure of information on arms exports and transfers by all countries, and would try to strengthen the United Nations register of conventional weapons by including the sale of small arms.