Britains plans Algerian arms deal despite ethical policy

Britain plans Algerian arms deal despite ethical policy

Marie Colvin, Times Newspapers, July 16, 2000

THE government is considering the sale of almost £5m in military equipment to the Algerian army, despite a record of atrocities committed by its soldiers that contravenes the ethical foreign policy espoused by Robin Cook, the foreign secretary.

The purchase of « specific items of defence equipment » was negotiated by BAe Systems, formerly British Aerospace, with the Qatar armed forces and finalised in late May. An order from the wealthy Gulf state, an ally of Britain, would not be controversial. But the purchase order formally sent to BAe, leaked to The Sunday Times by a Qatari officer, states that « it is the intention of the state of Qatar, by order of His Highness the Emir, to gift, free of charge, all of the items (as per the attached list) to the armed services of the state of Algeria ».

The purchase order goes on to offer to provide an end-user certificate for Algeria, a document that details where the arms will end up. Last week BAe confirmed the May 31 order, which followed extensive consultations, and said it expected government approval.

The order, worth £4.6m, is destined to improve the capabilities of the Algerian army, which is engaged in a civil war with the Islamic Salvation Front that was outlawed when it looked likely to win a national election in 1992.

The second round of elections was cancelled to prevent its victory and it went underground. An estimated 100,000 Algerians have died in the ensuing civil war. The rebels have massacred villagers who support the government, murdered journalists and killed women who do not adhere to their beliefs. The army has retaliated with acts that have inflamed the conflict and turned the population against the government. In the latest violence, 14 people have died since last Thursday.

The army, with its their roots in the brutal colonial war against the French that left a million dead, is subject to few controls. One of the worst atrocities occurred in the first three weeks of 1998, when more than 1,000 villagers were massacred, many within 500 yards of an army base that did not deploy a single soldier, despite the fact that the gunfire and screams would have been clearly audible. Villagers said that some of the attackers wore army uniforms.

An Algerian officer who defected told the Commons all-party human rights group that the army was implicated in « dirty jobs – the killing of journalists, military officers and even children ».

The shopping list Qatar has negotiated with BAe for donation to the Algerian army will be welcomed by soldiers fighting a fierce guerrilla war. It includes 20 Land Rover Defender 110 rapid deployment vehicles with hot climate specifications (at a total cost of £596,666); 50 Land Rover Defender 110 pickup trucks with hot climate specifications (£618,333), down to 500 Pilkington Optronics Kite night vision sights (£1.75m).

The purchase order is straightforward. Qatar would like all the items to be « of new manufacture » and have full warranties from Land Rover and Pilkington. It emphasises that all this should be passed on to the « armed forces of the state of Algeria ».

In the memorandum, it is clear that negotiations have preceded the order. The chief of staff of the Qatar armed forces, Staff Brigadier-General Hamad Ali Hamad al-Attiyah, opens the correspondence to Jerry Wooding, of BAe Systems, by referring to Wooding’s letter of May 18.

The purchase order was leaked by a Qatari officer who opposed what he described as his government’s hypocrisy. On the one hand, it had offered asylum to Hamas leaders expelled by Jordan, he said, but in this case was offering military equipment to an army massacring Islamic fighters.

He said he had no chance to debate the deal in his own country, so he turned to the British press in an attempt to put the issue in the public arena.

The trade and industry department, which has to grant an export certificate for the order to go ahead, confirmed last week that it had received the purchase order and it was being considered. However, a spokesman refused to comment « on individual cases ».

Neil Durkin, of Amnesty International, said last night: « The transfer of military equipment through third countries to those ravaged by human rights violations, like Algeria, is a reminder of the need for more effective end-user monitoring systems than we have at present. Tough new legislation is needed in the next parliamentary session. »