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UK sells chemical weapons to the world

BRITAIN is supplying chemical warfare technology to 26 countries including Libya, Syria, Israel and Iran -- which was labelled part of the 'axis of evil' by the United States.

A Sunday Herald investigation has revealed that the UK is allowing the export of the lethal chemicals, which are illegal under international law and controlled under the chemical weapons convention because they can be used in weapons of mass destruction.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), which authorised the sales, has admitted that it does not know whether the exports will be used to create chemical weapons once they are exported, or not.

Among the countries to which Britain is exporting 'toxic chemical precursors' (TCPs) is Sudan. The US bombed a factory in the Sudanese capital Khartoum in 1998 with the full support of the Blair government for allegedly producing the deadly VX nerve agent.

The UK is also exporting chemical weapons technology to countries that are not signatories to the chemical weapons convention and therefore do not recognise the international ban on chemical warfare.

Sudan and Jordan, which the UK also exports to, have signed the convention but not ratified it, making the treaty virtually meaningless there. The other nations Britain exports TCPs to are: Cyprus, India, Kenya, Kuwait, Malaysia, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda and Yemen.

TCPs are known as 'dual-use chemicals' as they can be used for harmless activities like farming or adapted or turned into chemical weapons. The DTI admitted the sales were on-going, but said the weapons were sold 'in the belief' that they would be used 'benignly' in agriculture or as detergents.

The DTI said it relied on assurances from foreign governments in the form of 'end user undertakings' that they would not use British TCPs to make chemical weapons. A spokesman agreed that this was in effect nothing more than a promise that could be broken.

'We aim to minimise risk,' the spokesman said, 'but obviously it is very difficult to say what happens to these things once they get to their final destinations. It is impossible to clamp down 100%. It is impossible to know what happens to them in the stages that come after they leave Britain.

Labour MP Ann Clwyd, who sits on international development, human rights and arms export committees, is to raise the Sunday Herald investigation with the Prime Minister in the Commons.

She wants the Arms Export Bill, which is currently going through parliament, to be amended to give MPs the right to scrutinise and approve all weapons exports before they leave the UK. The government has so far refused to give MPs these powers.

She said claims by the DTI that it monitored chemical sales were 'a myth' and 'did not stand up to scrutiny'. Clwyd added: 'We have no idea what happens with these chemicals when they get to their final destination. If we are going to sell these things we have to be 100% sure what happens to them when they are sold. If we can't be sure, we shouldn't sell them.'

Clwyd accused the government of having a 'skewed morality', adding that the suspicion now hung over the Blair government that it was 'aiding and abetting dodgy regimes in the development of weapons of mass destruction'.

Professor Julian Perry Robinson, a chemist at the Science and Technology Research Unit at Sussex University, said TCPs were the main constituent of chemical weapons. Robinson, who worked on the drafting of the chemical weapons con vention and is a member of its UK National Authority Advisory Committee said reve lations about trade in TCPs were of great public concern. He explained how one TCP, dimethyl methylphosphonate, could easily be turned into lethal sarin nerve gas -- the same agent used by the Aum Shinrikyo cult to kill 12 people on the Tokyo subway system in 1995.

Robinson said it was easy for countries buying chemicals from the UK to lie about their end use, and backed calls for parliamentary scrutiny of export licences, saying: 'It is impossible to say whether the current safeguards work.'

Richard Bingley, of the group Campaign Against the Arms Trade, warned that Britain was selling chemical weapons technology to regimes that could one day turn the capabilities Britain is giving to them back against it and its allies.

l The revelations of Britain's trade in chemical warfare follow an anti-arms trade demo nstration outside 10 Downing Street yesterday. Prot esters were calling for a ban on weapons sales from the UK to India and Pakistan as the two nations teeter on the brink of war.

Britain's Chemical Bazaar

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