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article imageOp-Ed: UK makes Libya's invisible arms race visible

By Ken Hanly     Feb 18, 2013 in Business
Tripoli - Wars are always a big boost for the military-industrial complex. While Libya is still awash with weapons many armaments were destroyed during the civil war. Now weapons makers from different nations compete to restock the country.
Britain is sending a floating armaments showroom to Libya in the form of a Royal Navy warship. The vessel will travel to Tripoli in April to display wares from different security firms.
The UK worries that French and Italian firms are cashing in on sales of new weapons to Libya following the ousting of Gaddafi and his regime.
Some Libyan politicians and others are concerned that the weapons may fall into the wrong hands and want to know exactly which companies will be coming and with what equipment. The UK Trade and Investment Agency that is organising the weapons fair has so far refused to give out this information on the grounds that it would give competitors and advantage. The agency claimed however that no weapons would be offered for sale and that Libyans would only be shown specialist equipment for port security and maintenance, inflatable boats and uniforms. This is not the first agency mission to Libya, a previous UKTI DSO mission to Libya in April last year was attended by BAE Systems, CAE, GD(UK), KBR, NATS, 3SDL, Selex Galileo, and Surrey Satellite Technology.
Hassan el-Amin, a member of congress and chair of the congress communications committee said: "I can't see the point of having this kind of exhibition in Libya now. One of our problems is that arms are everywhere. I can't see any point in an arms exhibition right now."
Apparently the fair is part of Britain's defence engagement strategy meant to develop relations in areas where the UK has security and business interests. While the UK Ministry of Defence did confirm that the Royal Navy ship would travel to Tripoli this spring, it would not give further details for security reasons. The trade agency said that the visit would provide "an opportunity for UK defence and security to promote equipment and services to the Libyan navy on board a Royal Navy vessel in Tripoli." The agency said the visit will "attract key senior military personnel from the Libyan government".
There is still a UN embargo in place in Libya and according to the Foreign Office Britain is restricted in what it can sell. The foreign secretary William Hague said that if there is a clear risk that an export could promote regional or internal conflicts or could be used for internal repression, a licence should be refused.
A spokesperson for The Campaign Against the Arms Trade said it had concerns about the mission: "We'd rather it didn't happen at all. But if it is going to happen, then UKTI needs to be more transparent about who is going and what they are attempting to sell."
Last year, Chris Baker who is operations director for UKTI's defence arm, said that the agency was looking to supply equipment for border and maritime security and also "at rebuilding their defence infrastructure, getting their air force back on its feet from scratch". As part of maintaining the No Fly zone authorised by the UN during the Libyan civil war, NATO forces completely destroyed Libya's air defense system as well as its air force.
Italy has already sent 20 Puma armoured cars to Libya, and just last month the French company Sillinger sold Libya 50 rigid inflatable boats. The Libyan defence minister, Mohammed al-Bargati said that Libya would give Italy "priority status for new armaments" but noted that the situation is complicated by the continuing embargo by the UN.
Weapons from Libya have been involved in the Mali conflict and were also used in the attack on the Amenas gas plant in neighbouring Algeria. Hillary Clinton said:"The Pandora's box of weapons coming out of these countries in the Middle East and north Africa is the source of one of our biggest threats. There is no doubt that the Algerian terrorists had weapons from Libya."
Nevertheless the arms manufacturers are sure to keep Pandora's box full of weapons of all descriptions.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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