Government invites Syria to shop for weapons in London

28 August 2003
  • Outrage as “Axis of Evil” asked to London arms bazaar
  • Now release secret invite list, campaigners demand



Press conference 5th September, London Euston (see below)

Campaigners against next month's London arms bazaar have condemned revelations that the British government has invited Syria to shop for arms at a huge weapons exhibition in London in just two weeks time.

The Ministry of Defence, which is paying £400,000 towards the fair, has also invited to the arms bazaar, countries with terrible human rights abuse records, countries mired in civil conflict, and countries drowning in poverty.

"It is amazing that Syria is called a 'terrorist sponsoring state' and threatened with military action with one hand, while invited to shop for arms on British soil on the other. Both hands must be covered in blood," said Martin Hogbin, campaigns co-ordinator at Campaign Against Arms Trade. "The invite could mean American arms companies are displaying weapons to the Syrian military which could then be used against them."

"Much of the rest of the list is a roll-call of countries who should not be invited to shop for arms on British soil, at the taxpayers' expense," he continued.

Thousands of protesters are expected to descend on Defence Systems Equipment International which is taking place at the ExCeL centre on London's docklands, from 9th - 12th September 2003.

Scandal of the secret list

Campaigners today called for the release of a second secret list of countries invited to shop at DSEI 2003.

The Ministry of Defence advises the DSEI 2003 exhibition organiser, PGI Spearhead Exhibitions Ltd, on who to invite and is contributing nearly half-a-million pounds to the weapons fair.

But Spearhead and the MoD have refused to release this second list of invited countries.

"It is a scandal that the government is paying for this arms fair with taxpayer's money and advised the exhibition organisers on who to invite, but still the second list is kept secret," said Martin Hogbin.

The Ministry of Defence has already told journalists that Spearhead has drawn up its own list of invites, on which it consults the MoD. Yet, the MoD has also said it has no powers to prevent Spearhead inviting whichever countries it wants to the London arms fair.

"Can it be true that a democratically elected government can't decide who comes to shop for arms on its soil? That secret list could mean yet more dictators, human rights abusers and terrible regimes could be invited to shop for weapons in London next month," continued Hogbin.

Investigative journalists managed to obtain the second list for DSEI 2001, and it revealed arms buyers from Angola, Uganda, Pakistan and Colombia were secretly invited to shop for arms.

"It appears the Government can simply ask Spearhead to invite the countries it wants to come, but can't be seen to be asking," continued Hogbin.

Blair's invite list

The Labour government's list of invitations to the arms bazaar was published this morning on the website of the Defence Export Services Organisation (www.deso.mod.uk), the 600 staff strong government agency who's sole job it is to promote British arms equipment abroad.

Countries of concern to CAAT. which have officially been invited by the Government to shop for arms include Syria, India & Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Turkey

Martin Hogbin said:

"Less than 12 months ago, India and Pakistan were teetering on the brink of nuclear war with each other. Even today, they are at each other's throats accusing each other of sponsoring terrorism. Inviting both of them to the arms fair illustrates how the Blair government is really more interested in flogging British weapons than making real progress towards peace."

"The brutal regime in Saudi Arabia has been accused, even in recent weeks, of sanctioning torture and human rights abuse, even against British citizens. The Saudi royal family has also been accused of helping to fund Al Quaeda. Their invite to the London arms bazaar shows new Labour's true-colours on human rights and arms exports: however brutal or corrupt, you are welcome to buy weapons in London!"

"South Africa needs to spend money on the development of civil industry, water supplies, education, housing and health. With no identifiable threat, what South Africa doesn't need is yet more expensive weaponry. If the UK was really interested in helping heal the scar of Africa's poverty, we would not be inviting its leaders to spend yet more money on horrific weapons. South Africa has also recently been accused of corruption in a $4bn arms deal with some of the companies exhibiting at DSEI this year."

"Turkey has a record of massive human rights violations, especially against Kurds in the south-east of the country, using British weaponry. Inviting Turkey to this arms fair not only provides them with the equipment to continue their brutal regime, but illustrates our Government turning a blind eye to human rights abuse."

CAAT is launching a detailed briefing about the countries and arms firms attending the DSEI 2003 exhibition on Tuesday 2nd September. Reserve your copy on 020 7281 0297, or visit www.caat.org.uk after publication.

Protests Planned

A series of protests, direct actions and other anti-DSEI events have been planned for the week of the arms fair, including a mass demonstration in central London on 6th September, a 'Facing the Arms Traders' event on the 9th September, the day the fair opens, and a 'direct action day' on 10th September.

There will be a press conference, with all media welcome, about the arms fair and the protests against it at 10.30am on Friday 5th September, at Friends House, Euston Road (opposite Euston rail station).

For more information, images and interviews contact: The Press Office, Campaign Against Arms Trade Tel. 020 7281 0297, Email: media(at)caat·org·uk, Out of hours: 07092 230 477

Click here for the CAAT DSEI microsite

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