Friday

24th Feb 2017

EU arms to Libya: fresh details emerge

  • Container ship at Maltese port. Malta has a reputation as a transit-hub for arms traders (Photo: albir)

Malta has denied any responsibility for a massive shipment of Italian-made guns to Libya that went through its port in 2009. Meanwhile, video footage on YouTube appears to show Belgian-made weapons currently being used by Gaddafi mercenaries.

The Maltese foreign ministry has rejected EU data saying that it exported €79.7 million worth of "smooth-bore weapons with a calibre of less than 20mm, other arms and automatic weapons with a calibre of 12.7 mm (calibre 0.50 inches) or less and accessories" to Libya two years ago.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The Maltese foreign ministry in an official statement on Tuesday (22 February) said the guns originated in Italy and "as far as customs can confirm, they did not touch dry land [in Malta]."

It added: "The end user was the government of Libya as confirmed by the Italian embassy there. There were no sanctions presently imposed on Libya. On the basis of the above, authorisation for transit was issued while customs allowed transit."

A Maltese contact said the EU document naming Malta as the exporter is "damaging Malta's reputation." He added that the small island has been a transit hub for EU exports to north Africa "since Medieval times" and that "not one euro" of Maltese-origin exports to Libya in 2009 concerned weapons.

He declined to say how many arms-related transit permits it granted in the same year, however.

An EU diplomatic source familiar with documents relating to the shipment said the guns were made by Italy's Fabbrica d'Armi Pietro Beretta. The Italian company told this website it never answers questions on individual transactions.

In an element of mystery, Italy's own data on arms permits for 2009 indicates that it sold rockets and other equipment, but no rifles or handguns, to Libyan hardman Moammar Gaddafi in the year in question.

A shipment of Belgian-made guns to Libya also dating back to 2009 (the latest year for which EU data is available) gives an idea of how much hardware €79.7 million could buy.

Belgian company FN Herstal in 2009 in a smaller order worth €11.5 million sold to Libya: 367 rifles; 367 pistols; 50 "luxury" pistols; 30 "light" machine guns; 22,000 rifle grenades; 1.3 million ammunition cartridges; and 2,000 semi-automatic FN 303 anti-riot guns.

Belgium's State Court initially revoked FN Herstal's licence to ship the kit, citing procedural reasons. But the local government in the Walloon region later reissued the permits.

FN Herstal's website says "the primary effect of the [FN 303] projectile is trauma, capable of stopping the action of the aggressor immediately." It adds: "Misuse may result in injury or death. Never aim at face or head."

"The weapons are now in Libya," Cedric Poitevin, an expert at the Belgian arms-control NGO, Grip, told this website. He pointed to fresh YouTube footage showing what he says is an FN 303 recently captured by anti-Gaddafi protesters.

"According to the civilians, they took the weapon from the hands of mercenaries paid by the Gaddafi family. This weapon is more than probably one of the weapons sent by Belgium in 2009," Mr Poitevin said. "It's a glaring illustration of the risk of selling weapons (especially small arms and light weapons) to unstable and unreliable regimes."

A spokeswoman for EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton on Wednesday said that most EU countries are unilaterally suspending arms sales to Libya.

Focus

Malta to push for LGBTI rights in troubled times

Malta has, in a short space of time, emerged as a champion for LGBTIQ rights. Activists hope the Maltese EU presidency will help to put their rights higher on the EU agenda.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Searching for a voice and a standard bearer

As Britons come to terms with the reality of Brexit many Remainers are now listless, looking for someone to present a viable alternative to Theresa May's dominance

Opinion

The crisis we face in the Lake Chad Basin

With no end in sight to this crisis, humanitarian actors must call for concerted engagement of political, developmental and security actors to help stabilise the region, writes the head of the UN migration agency.

Le Pen wants to 'do away' with the EU

The far-right presidential candidate said that she would create a "Europe of free nations", while taking France out of Nato command and "tie up" Russia to Europe.

Feature

Armenia-Azerbaijan war: Line of contact

“Frontline coffee is the best coffee in the world”, an Armenian lieutenant told EUobserver, with soldiers' morale among their strongest weapons in the war against an oil-rich foe.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Searching for a voice and a standard bearer

As Britons come to terms with the reality of Brexit many Remainers are now listless, looking for someone to present a viable alternative to Theresa May's dominance

News in Brief

  1. Spanish court jails former IMF chief Rato
  2. Macron proposes Nordic-style economic model for France
  3. Germany posts record high budget surplus
  4. Labour ousts Ukip in Brexit homeland
  5. Dutch lower house approves EU-Ukraine treaty
  6. WTO says Russian pork ban was illegal
  7. Belgian nuclear plant made 'significant progress' on safety
  8. Report: Commission gauging EU support for Poland sanctions

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EURORDISJoin the Rare Disease Day and Help to Advocate for More Research on Rare Diseases
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceStudents Who Are Considered Fit Get Better Grades in School
  3. QS World MBA TourMeet with Leading International Business Schools in Paris on March 4th
  4. Malta EU 2017Economic Governance: Agreement Reached on Structural Reform Support Programme for Member States
  5. Socialists & DemocratsWomen Have to Work Ten Years Longer to Match Lifetime Earnings of Men
  6. Counter BalanceTrans-Adriatic Pipeline Is a Major Risk for Banks, Warns New Analysis
  7. Martens CentreEU and US Migration Policies Compared: Join the Debate on February 28th
  8. Swedish EnterprisesTechnology and Data Flows - Shaping the Society of Tomorrow
  9. UNICEFNearly 1.4 Million Children at Risk of Death as Famine Looms Across Africa and Yemen
  10. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Fees: Council Reaches Agreement on Wholesale Caps
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Help Startups Access US Market
  12. Centre Maurits CoppietersMinorities and Migrations