Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu. Photo: Michael Walker
Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu. Photo: Michael Walker

SA denies selling sniper rifles to Libya

By Deon De Lange Time of article published Feb 23, 2011

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Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has denied claims that South Africa sold sniper rifles and other small arms to Libya late last year.

The DA’s spokesman on defence, David Maynier, has said South Africa might have approved the sale of 100 sniper rifles and 50 000 rounds of ammunition to Libya in late 2010.

The South African company alleged to have sold the weapons and ammunition listed Libya as a “target market in Africa” and had exhibited the rifles at an arms fair in Libya in 2008, Maynier said.

“We understand that the export of the sniper rifles and ammunition was authorised by the National Conventional Arms Control Committee.”

Maynier would not reveal the name of the company.

Reports from the troubled North African country suggest government forces or government-sponsored mercenaries have used sniper rifles in a bloody crackdown in Tripoli and Benghazi on demonstrations calling for President Muammar Gaddafi to go.

Sisulu said in Cape Town yesterday that - to her knowledge - South Africa had not approved the sale of sniper rifles to Libya.

“Have we sold any sniper rifles to Libya? Not that I am aware of. We have a committee that oversees the sale of any arms or ammunition from South Africa to any country.

“A report is provided of our activities by the arms control body and I am not aware that Libya is on the list of those countries that we have sold sniper rifles to.”

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe - who chairs the arms control body - confirmed in August 2009 that South Africa had approved the sale of “various weapons” to Libya in the past.

In March 2009, the arms control body approved the sale of an unknown number of C130 aircraft and 40mm multiple grenade launchers. In May 2008, a permit was issued for the “demonstration of fuses and various kinds of ammunition”, according to a statement issued by Radebe in 2009.

The arms control body has since authorised the sale of armoured personnel carriers to Libya.

Meanwhile, the government has revealed that no contact has been made with the Libyan authorities since protests began there last week.

It is not known how many South Africans are trapped in Libya.

Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Ebrahim Ebrahim said as far as he was concerned there was no need to engage with the Libyan authorities.

“We have not been in touch with anyone from the administration in Libya. I didn’t think it was necessary for us to be in touch with the ruling administration and the ruling elite in Libya - at least from the side of the department,” he said.

Ebrahim said the government had been in touch with its ambassador in Libya, Muhamad Dangor, to “get a report of exactly what is taking place in Libya so we can get first-hand information”.

“I am told communication is not very good because there is some problem… but we hope to get a full report soon from our ambassador.”

Ebrahim could not say how many South Africans were stranded in Libya or if any were in danger.

Asked if the South African government was prepared to condemn the state-sponsored violence in Libya, Ebrahim said the government “has always condemned the use of force against peaceful demonstrations and civilian populations, no matter where it takes place”.

But he stopped short of singling out Gaddafi’s government for rebuke.

“In this whole uprising in the Middle East we have been of the view that these demonstrations are peaceful and whatever problems there are should be resolved peacefully,” he said.

Cope said that it was “baffled” by South Africa’s silence in the face of the “brutality of the Libyan government towards peaceful demonstrations”.

“The silence of our government, a close Gaddafi friend and ally, and the Southern African Development Community in condemning the state-sponsored violence is deafening,” Cope said, adding that the reported killings “can only mean that Gaddafi now leads a murderous regime and must be held to account”.

Cope called for South Africa’s ambassador to Libya to be “recalled” and for the government to “suspend all diplomatic relations with that state”.

The African Democracy Forum, which represents about 450 human rights organisations in the continent, called on the AU to “investigate gross human rights abuses and the loss of life” in Libya.

The World Alliance for Citizen Participation (Civicus) said the international community “cannot afford to look the other way while Gaddafi’s henchmen mow down unarmed civilians on the streets”. - Political Bureau

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