27th Oct 2016

Libya replete with EU arms as Gaddafi massacres protesters

  • Kalashnikov. David Cameron on his current Middle East tour opted to bring along Ian King, the CEO of top British arms firm BAe Systems, as part of his delegation, as well as executives from UK weapons firms Rolls Royce and Thales (Photo: reuvenim)

As dead bodies pile up on the streets of Tripoli and blocked phone lines hamper the EU evacuation effort, the latest EU figures show that EU countries just two years ago granted over €160 million of export licences to Libya for small arms and electronic jamming equipment.

The Union's latest report on arms exports, out in January and covering 2009, says that EU countries granted €343.7 million worth of Libya licences two years before the massacre. Figures for actual shipments are incomplete.

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With the UK's Associated Press agency reporting on Tuesday (22 February) that the streets of Tripoli "are littered with the bodies of scores of protesters shot dead by security forces," the EU report notes that Malta in 2009 granted licences and actually shipped €79.7 million of small arms to the regime. Belgium granted €18 million of licences and Bulgaria €3.7 million.

On electronic jamming, Germany led with €43.2 million of permits. The UK granted €20.7 million worth and Italy €1 million.

EU officials on Monday told this website that Libyan jamming of mobile phone, internet and GPS services is hampering attempts to get the 5,000 or so EU citizens still in Libya to safety. The EU's ambassador in Tunis, who is also responsible for Libya, is trying to co-ordinate evacuations by calling EU embassies in Tripoli on landlines. But many of these are also down.

Amid widespread reports that the Libyan airforce is bombing and shooting opposition activists, Italy led the sale of what the arms industry calls "big ticket items."

Italy granted €107.7 million of licences for military aircraft, including assault craft, and associated equipment. France granted €17.5 million worth and Portugal €14.5 million. Portugal also granted €4.6 million of permits for drones.

Other licences of note include: €4.4 million of Belgian permits for anti-personnel chemicals used to quell riots and €2.6 million of Italian licences for bomb fuses.

Paul Holtom, an arms control expert with the Swedish NGO Sipri said that Russia is Libya's main arms supplier. The EU gold rush began after the UN lifted its arms embargo in 2003, with senior British, French and Italian officials jetting in and out of Tripoli in delegations with arms and oil industry executives.

"You've seen a lot of major suppliers going for a chunk of the Libyan arms market due to its increase in resource [oil] revenues," he told EUobserver. "[Libyan leader] Moammar Gaddafi has been playing the suppliers off each other and he hasn't really signed for big ticket items [from EU companies] yet."

In the 2005 to 2009 period, the only 'big ticket' EU deals were Italy's sale of six helicopters and a French contract to refurbish Libya's Mirage combat jets.

Ottfried Nassauer from the German arms control NGO Bits, said: "Nominal [trade] standards are quite high, but in reality business interests and economic interests as well as political interests override the ethical standards in many cases." He added that Libya supplies a large fraction of German oil imports and can manipulate energy prices.

EU governments are not always as cynical as the 2009 data implies.

Belgium in 2009 in response to NGO complaints overturned a licence for FN Herstal to supply €11.5 million of small arms - including 367 rifles, 367 handguns, 50 "luxury" pistols and 22,000 grenades - for Gaddafi's elite army and police units.

The UK in 2008 blocked York Guns from shipping 130,000 Kalashnikovs to Libya because it feared they would be resold to warlords in Sudan.

The same year Romania gave the green light to sell Gaddafi 100,000 of the guns, however. And UK premier David Cameron on his current Middle East tour opted to bring Ian King, the CEO of top British arms firm BAe Systems, as part of his delegation, as well as executives from UK weapons firms Rolls Royce and Thales.

"If what we are witnessing is a true revolution in Libya, then we shall soon be able - unless the Western embassy flunkies get there first for a spot of serious, desperate looting - to rifle through the Tripoli files ... and reveal some secrets which ... [our governments] would rather we didn't know about," British journalist Robert Fisk wrote in the UK daily The Independent on Tuesday.

Correction: the lead paragraph and headline of the story were changed at 8pm Brussels time on 22 February because the original lead implied the EU arms sales were more recent. The total EU arms licence figure was also revised

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