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25th Jun 2018

EU components used in Belarus spy drones, NGO says

  • The same police that terrorised people in December 2010 now carry EU-made guns, the NGO says (Photo: EPA)

A German-based firm has said that some of its engines may have been used for Belarus spy drones despite EU sanctions.

The company, 3W Modellmotoren in Rodermark in southwest Germany, which makes stroke engines for small airplanes, told EUobserver on Monday (10 September) that dealers might have sold some of its technology for use in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) belonging to Belarus' interior ministry.

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"You know it could very well be that they [Belarus] got engines from one of our dealers around the world. You never know what they [dealers] do," 3W Modellmotoren managing director, Peter Wintrich, said.

He explained the firm does not sell to Belarus directly, but noted that his company has "no control" over resellers. The firm has dealers in 43 countries, three of them based in Russia.

"You can use any of our engines for UAVs," he noted.

Its top of the line 3W engine comes with a €8,400 price tag.

The State Military Industrial Committee of Belarus conducted a number UAV tests over the summer in Minsk using the 3W Modellmotoren equipment, according to the Hague-based NGO Belarus Tribunal in a report issued on Sunday.

The NGO is alarmed that state authorities might mount video surveillance equipment on the drones to monitor demonstrations and track dissidents.

Belarus Tribunal says the UAVs could also disperse crowds by dropping tear gas.

Production of the vehicles was announced in August by the director general of Minsk Aircraft Overhaul Plant.

The aviation firm told Belarussian Telegraph Agency, a state-run media outlet, that it will produce at least 10 every year starting in 2013.

It described the vehicles as gas-pistoned engines with a 240-km range and top speeds of around 200 km/hr. It said Belarus' defence ministry, the interior ministry and the emergencies ministry are its primary clients.

EU pistols in the wrong place?

Belarus Tribunal also claims that Austrian, German and Swiss-made small arms have been sold and distributed to the third special brigade in Belarus' interior ministry.

The brigade, whose officers now allegedly carry the EU-manufactured pistols, is tasked with breaking up "illegal" demonstrations and was instrumental in the violent crackdown after elections in December 2010, which prompted the EU arms embargo in the first place.

Hundreds of people, including presidential candidates, were beaten. Dozens were detained in pre-trial prisons and interrogated, prompting wide international condemnation.

The NGO says the guns were sold in September and October of last year, after the EU ban was already in place.

An additional embargo, issued in June 2011 by the European Council, included the ban on the sale and distribution of any products such as a firearms, explosives, grenades, ammunition, technology and hardware that can be used for internal repression.

The June ruling also froze the assets of three Belarus companies, including weapons exporter Beltechexport, run by Vladimir Peftiev, a key sponsor of the Lukashenko regime.

Belarus Tribunal claims these arms sanctions are now proving ineffective.

"According to information obtained by our organisation, the brigade's firearms were successfully rearmed, despite the standing embargo from the EU. For example, the firearms that are used by the brigade include guns produced by Glock [Austria] and SIG Sauer [Switzerland-Germany]," it said in its report.

Both Glock and SIG Sauer manufacture and sell small arms to police and military forces around the world. Glock declined to comment on the case by telephone and SIG Sauer was not reached in time.

For his part, Igor Makar, an exiled Belarus spetnaz offcier, told EUobserver by email that he is not aware of any EU-made weapons being used by Belarus authorities.

"Maybe these guns arrived in Belarus from the EU. Maybe they were sold to Belarus via third countries," Makar said.

He noted that the Belarus state-run media group ONT said in a recent TV report that Belarus internal security forces had made a purchase of Swiss-German weapons six months ago.

The Belarus Tribunal document depicts snap shot images of a Sig Sauer P226 pistol taken from the ONT report.

The EU said it is not aware of any clear breach of the Belarus sanctions by any EU-based companies.

"There are many attempts in particular towards the people who are targeted to try and get themselves off the list with various degrees of success. But I'm not aware of any proven case of the breach of sanctions recently," said EU foreign affairs spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic, referring to lawsuits by EU-blacklisted Belarus citizens in the EU court in Luxembourg.

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