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EU firms 'being used to supply arms to Burma'

By Kim Sengupta

European Union and American companies are unwittingly involved in the production of military helicopters likely to be sold to Burma, whose regime is accused of systematic human rights abuse, according to a new report.

Human rights groups say the proposed deal, in which the aircraft are supplied through a third party, India, severely undermines an international embargo on supplying arms to Burma.

Companies from the US, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Sweden, as well as the UK, have been involved in the manufacture of the Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) for the Indian army in conjunction with the Indian conglomerate Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. The British connection, says the study, is through the firms APPH Hydraulics and FPT Industries Ltd, a part of GKN Aerospace Services Ltd.

According to the report, "Indian helicopters for Myanmar (Burma) [are] making a mockery of the EU arms embargo". The report was compiled on behalf of nine human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, Saferworld and Campaign Against Arms Trade (UK). It says the government in Delhi is close to agreeing to a Burmese request for the helicopters following the supply of maritime surveillance aircraft.

The Indian Foreign Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, recently said that there was likely to be a "favourable response" to Burmese requests for further military assistance. Defence analysts say that in addition to the attack helicopter, this may include tanks, artillery, small arms and radar.

The move by the Indian government follows Burma's offer to help in combating insurgency from the country into north-east India. Delhi, with the backing of the US and UK, also wants to counter an increasing Chinese strategic presence in Burma.

The closer military co-operation between India and Burma has already led to criticism by Indian human rights groups. Burmese armed forces have been repeatedly accused by the UN and US of engaging in atrocities against civilians including unlawful killings, abductions, torture and rape.

The European Union imposed an arms embargo on Burma in 1988 which has been subsequently renewed on several occasions, the latest in 2006. The sanctions are legally binding and require all EU states to implement and enforce them.

The US imposed an arms embargo on Burma in 1993 and although it is not considered to be as comprehensive as the European one, it contains regulations concerning the movement of military technology from the US through a third country.

The report states that the EU companies, other than the two from the UK, which supplied technology for the military helicopter are: Forges de Zeebrugge of Belgium; Turbomeca of France; Europcopter Deutschland of Germany; Elettronica Aster SpA of Italy; Saab AB of Sweden and Aitech Systems Ltd and Lord Corporation of the US.

Of the British companies GKN Aerospace Services Ltd, says the report, "confirmed that they have supplied fuel tanks, flotation equipment, and related gaskets and seats for the ALH, but that these are subject to end-use certificates stipulating they would not be re-exported."

The report points out: "However, while the UK Government normally requires the presentation of end-use documentation as part of the licensing process, it does not as a rule then include explicit end-use restrictions as a condition on the export licence. If this is the case in this instance, what force those end-user undertakings have is unclear".

APPH Precision Hydraulics, the second British firm mentioned in the report, did not respond to a query for clarification.

Helen Hughes, from Amnesty International, said: "Greater attention has to be given to the end uses agreements and the re-export of components from EU member states. Otherwise, these states could find themselves indirectly propping up a brutal regime which they themselves have condemned and whose violations have amounted to crimes against humanity."

Roy Isbister, from Saferworld, added: "The EU embargo... states that no military equipment should be supplied, directly or indirectly, for use in Myanmar - what's the point in having an arms embargo if it is not going to be implemented?"

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