Smoke rises from a port of Tripoli after being attacked. South African military hardware exported to Turkey may end up in Libya or Syria, the writer says. File picture: Reuters
Smoke rises from a port of Tripoli after being attacked. South African military hardware exported to Turkey may end up in Libya or Syria, the writer says. File picture: Reuters

SA military hardware exported to Turkey may end up in Libya or Syria

By Shannon Ebrahim - Global Eye Time of article published May 8, 2020

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It is simply unfathomable that the National Conventional Arms Control Committee approved the export of military hardware to Turkey when that country is at war, both in Libya and in Syria.

Section 15 of the National Conventional Arms Control Act (NCACC) clearly stipulates that South Africa may not sell military equipment and ­weapons to any country engaged in armed conflict.

It would seem the sale of any type of military hardware to Turkey would go against the provisions of the NCACC Act, and it begs the question as to whether the NCACC is acting as a credible oversight mechanism to ensure compliance with the law.

The NCACC issued a permit earlier this year to Rheinmetall Denel Munitions (RDM) to export certain military hardware to Turkey, and according to advocate Ezra Jele, the head of the secretariat of the NCACC, applications are considered on a case-by-case basis, and according to product categories.

But whatever type of military items were sent off in the six Turkish military cargo planes that left South Africa for Turkey in the past week, it raises critical questions as to why we are transacting in military items with a country engaged in military conflict in Libya and Syria.

RDM is jointly owned by the German company Rheinmetall Waffe Munition and Denel, and it is important to note that Germany has banned exports of weapons to Turkey which could be used in the conflict in Syria.

One also has to question the lack of transparency surrounding such military exports.

RDM refuses to answer any questions regarding what type of military hardware they have exported to Turkey. The company’s head of public relations, Ruby Maree, has said their customers do not want them to disclose the nature of the military exports.

After repeated questions being put to Jele in writing regarding the nature of the military exports to Turkey, and his promises to revert on the issue, no response has been forthcoming.

There has been a seeming reluctance on the part of Jele to respond honestly and in a straightforward manner on this issue, which begs the question as to why.

Turkish Ambassador to South Africa Elif Comoglu Ulgen is also not prepared to comment on the nature of military hardware sent to Ankara, but has called the transaction “a simple trade act between our relevant institutions”.

Surely the South African public has the right to know whether our legislation has been violated by this transaction, and given Turkey’s active involvement in the conflicts in Libya and Syria, it is hard to see how it hasn’t.

What is perhaps the gravest part of this story is the devastating role Turkey is playing through its military intervention in Libya.

This, despite the fact that it has been reported in the South African media that President Cyril Ramaphosa, as the chair of the AU, asked President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in January not to intervene militarily in Libya, or deploy Turkish troops on the ground there. Turkey disregarded Ramaphosa’s appeals and has been engaged in significant military action in Libya.

Turkey’s parliament approved plans to send troops to Libya on January 2 this year, and Maree admits her company received a permit from the NCACC to export military hardware to Turkey in 2020, long before the Covid-19 lockdown.

By January 11, Erdogan had announced that Turkey had begun to send troops to Libya, so the NCACC cannot say they were unaware that Turkey was involved in yet another armed conflict.

Given the plethora of information in the public domain regarding Turkey’s ongoing shipment of military arms, supplies and troops to Libya, surely the NCACC should have cancelled the permit given Turkey’s military intervention and participation in the armed conflict.

There is also the fact that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had made an appeal for a Covid-19 ceasefire in Libya.

But regardless of these realities, the shipment of six military cargo planes worth of military hardware left South Africa for Turkey between last Thursday and Monday this week.

RDM is known to specialise in the manufacture of large and medium ­calibre ammunition, and claims to be a leader in the field of artillery, mortar and infantry systems.

While Turkey may claim the military hardware bought from South Africa will be used in military exercises, it is far more likely it will be used in its war efforts in Libya or Syria, or both.

Turkey also claims the military imports from South Africa are for the Machinery and Chemical Industry Institution.

However, according to Turkish defence expert Levent Ozgul, this body processes explosives and ammunition for the Turkish ministry of defence.

This is precisely why our national arms control legislation has the important caveat that we cannot sell military items to countries engaged in armed conflict.

Who then will be the guardians to ensure that this provision in the legislation will be enforced?

* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media group foreign editor.

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