Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Global arms shipments out of control

Global arms shipments out of control: Amnesty
By Jeremy Lovell

LONDON (Reuters) - Governments who cut their armed forces end up relying on private suppliers to transport their weapons with few controls, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

And as these logistics networks proliferate in conflicts across the globe, international arms control rules are now floundering, the human rights group said in a new report urging tough government action to re-impose control.

"Arms supply chains are becoming increasingly sub-contracted and completely out of control," Amnesty's arms expert Brian Wood told Reuters. "They are talking about curbing brokering but they haven't even got round to transport."

"Brokering is increasingly common, with main contractors sub-contracting supply, transportation and collection in an ever lengthening and increasingly opaque chain," he added as his report "Dead on Time - arms, transportation, brokering and the threat to human rights" was published.

Not only were governments exploiting the poor controls to hide their activities, but increasingly armed opposition groups and organized crime rings were taking advantage of the murky markets to obtain their weaponry, he said in an interview.

The report, published ahead of a United Nations meeting late next month on small arms trafficking, says that increasingly weapons are either destined for or diverted to countries under arms embargoes or to insurgent and criminal groups.

At the same time the financial arrangements for these shipments has become increasingly complex, with large sums of cash changing hands or arms and ammunition being bartered for narcotics or natural resources like gems, oil and timber.

It called for governments to reestablish control over the arms trade -- especially the brokerage and transport firms.

"All these controls are inadequate and antiquated. There must be proper systems of vetting and licensing," Wood said.

The report said the end of the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 unleashed not only a flood of cheap arms but also the giant aircraft needed to carry them across the globe to wars in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.

Wood said small scale brokers who had shielded government involvement in the movement of arms and ammunition to the proxy wars of the Cold War had now grown to become major players in an increasingly diverse international weapons markets.

The report noted cases including US and Chinese arms shipments to Nepal via circuitous routes, an attempt caught in South Africa to secretly ship weapons from Brazil to Saudi Arabia and Mauritius and Chinese arms send covertly to Liberia.

"The idea of arms being put on a plane in one country and flown directly to the end recipient still does happen, but it is increasingly the exception rather than the rule," Wood said.

The report cited the vast quantities of weapons in Bosnia that were shipped after the war by the Alabama-based Taos Industries Inc on behalf of the US Department of Defense to Iraq for the new Iraqi Army after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

It said Taos sub-contracted the multi-million dollar deal to companies in Israel, Switzerland, Bulgaria and Britain, with the first shipments being flown out of Bosnia via Aerocom which had been accused in a 2003 UN report of smuggling arms to Liberia.

However, records were very sketchy and one flight which was logged out of Tuzla airbase on the way to Baghdad was never recorded as arriving in Iraq, the report said.

"Even more importantly, it cannot be established with any certainty that the weapons carried by Aerocom were actually delivered in Baghdad," the report said.