Tuesday, August 3, 2010

SA sold 'conventional weapons' to Madagascar

Cape Town - South Africa sold riot control equipment to Madagascar around the time the military ousted President Marc Ravalomanana, the justice ministry said on Monday, but denied suggestions that Pretoria acted improperly in doing so.

The riot gear, classed as conventional weapons, was shipped to the troubled Indian Ocean island in February and March 2009, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said in reply to a parliamentary question in his capacity as head of the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC).

Radebe also disclosed that South Africa exported three armoured vehicles to war-torn Somalia last year.

In Madagascar, dozens of people were killed in February 2009 as police opened fire on opposition protests in Antananarivo after the government sacked Andry Rajoelina as mayor of the capital.

The following month opposition leader Ravalomanana resigned after a mutiny by military officers and handed power to Rajoelina.

Radebe said the deal was approved by the NCACC "on an ad hoc basis in February" last year, in other words before Ravalomanana was overthrown.

Democratic Alliance MP David Maynier said by law South Africa had a responsibility to stop the sale of conventional arms to a country if the political situation there changed prior to the export.

The Arms Control Act prohibits the sale of conventional weapons to countries where they could be used to wage internal repression or regional conflicts.

Justice ministry spokesperson Tlali Tlali denied South Africa had broken the law.

"We subscribe to the international agenda of responsible trade in arms. We reject completely suggestions that the NCACC committed an act of transgression relating to guiding principles and criteria provided for in Section 15 of the [Arms Control] Act.

"At the time when the Madagascan transaction was considered and authorised, it was treated as a legitimate request to provide equipment intended for the defence and security needs of the importing state."

Tlali said the ministry would provide more information on the deal with Somalia on Tuesday.

Maynier had said the sale posed questions on whether South Africa had breached the UN arms embargo against Somalia that dated from 1992.

It was not clear whether Pretoria supplied the vehicles to Somalia's embattled transitional government or to the African Union peacekeeping force in Mogadishu.

Madagascar had an earlier bout of political turmoil in 2002 when Ravalomanana won elections, but veteran leader Didier Ratsiraka refused to give up power, prompting violent protests.

Defence expert Helmoed-Rumer Heitman said the South African government was selling arms to the elected leader at the time of the deal last year, and it was under no obligation to rescind.

"At that point he was the legitimate government and that is no reason why you cannot give the legitimate government the equipment they say they need.

"I don't have too much of a problem with it because he was running a particularly repressive regime."