SA opposition criticise weapon deal

CAPE TOWN: A crisis in South Africa's arms control body has resulted in weapon deals being authorised to repressive regimes such as Iran, Libya, Zimbabwe and North Korea, the main opposition party said Sunday.

Democratic Alliance shadow minister of defence David Maynier said "several dodgy deals appear to have slipped through the cracks" as the arms control body has failed to meet regularly and produce regular reports as required by law.

Maynier said his investigation into the activities of the National Conventional Arms Control Committee showed deals had been authorised to sell weapons to some of the most repressive regimes in the world.

Many of these countries are under partial or full arms embargoes by the United Nations and European Union.

South African government spokesman Harold Maloka said they had not received the report and could not yet comment on it.

According to Maynier, in the past 13 months deals have been authorised to send multiple grenade launchers and glide bombs -- long-range precision guided weapons -- to Libya.

"There is a concern these glide bombs could be converted to deliver a nuclear, chemical or biological weapon," Maynier told journalists at a press conference.

The delivery of multiple grenade launchers to Syria had also been approved, with a sale of sniper rifles pending.

The committee has also authorised the sale of radar detectors for use on North Korean submarines, as well as the export of thousands of upgraded assault rifles to Venezuela, and there are fears these arms could find their way to Farc guerillas in Colombia.

A deal to sell Aviator G-suits -- worn by pilots subject to high level acceleration to prevent blackouts -- was also on the cards with Iran.

A contract to send ammunition for assault rifles and hand guns to Zimbabwe is under NCACC approval.

Pretoria has come under fire for exporting arms on the continent, and was widely condemned last year for allowing Chinese arms and ammunition to be transported through South Africa to Zimbabwe in the midst of that country's political crisis.

Guy Lamb, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, told AFP the NCACC act stated arms should not be sold to countries where they could contribute to internal repression or violate human rights.

"None of those (countries) violate UN arms embargoes which South Africa has to adhere to, but there are certain problems with exporting to Zimbabwe for example and Venezuela, who are not the most reliable end users of that equipment."

Lamb said there was a paradox between South Africa's human rights-centred approach to foreign policy and arms sales.

"South Africa has always flown quite close to the sun in terms of arms exports."

Maynier said he had spent a month gathering information and documents from sources he could not reveal, but he was willing to present the information in more detail to parliament.

"I have absolute confidence this information is correct," he said.