Three weapons, three serial numbers.
These three rifles are Belgian. What’s so important about them? Well, the United Nations Panel of Experts on Libya mentioned them in its latest report, released this month:
73. The Panel requested the Belgian authorities to assist in tracing an FNC assault rifle that was photographed in Libya in 2012.2 The Belgian authorities responded that the rifle (serial No. 025992) bore markings that resembled a rifle that was part of an order exported to the Qatari armed forces in Doha around 1980.
99. In the first tracing request, an FN FAL assault rifle photographed in Libya in 2012 (serial No. 1514944) was identified by the Belgian manufacturer as being part of an order that was delivered to the Emirate of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in 1979.
100. In the second tracing request, another FN FAL assault rifle photographed in Libya in 2012 (serial No. 1731984) was identified as resembling a weapon delivered to the Emirate of Dubai in an order dated 19 April 1991.
The problem? Those rifles were not found in Qatar nor in the UAE. They were found in Libya, in the hands of the men who fought Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
What does it mean? First, that Belgian weapons were diverted from Qatar and the UAE, probably in breach of the contracts passed then between Belgium and the two countries. Second, that if the two countries transferred the weapons directly to the Libyan rebels, they breached a UN arms embargo. (Update 6/16/2014: this paragraph has been modified to reflect the fact that the complete chain of custody could not be documented.).
Will Belgium change its arms export policy towards those two countries? With the elements of information available today, this question remains open.*
What it shows, though, is the importance of thoroughly documenting the tools of war.
Those rifles were not documented by the UN Panel of Experts, but by journalists on the ground. Those journalists then published their photographs and their stories. The Belgian authorities refused to trace those weapons until it was asked from them by the UN.
If you’re in Belgium and can read French, make sure to get a copy of Le Vif/L’Express today (or before next Thursday) for more details. (For those of you who will read the article, forgive the mistakes the photo editor made: the 1st picture is obviously an FNC, and the serial number on the 3rd page belongs to an FN FAL, not to an FNC.)
Photos 1 and 2: an FN FAL rifle, with right-hand side serial number. Benghazi, Libya, February 2012, Damien Spleeters.
Photos 3 and 4: an FN FAL rifle, with right-hand side serial number. Benghazi, Libya, June 2012, Jef Linssen.
Photo 5 and 6: an FNC assault rifle, with serial number. Libya, June 2012, Jef Linssen.
*This paragraph was edited on April 19, 14:10 following a discussion held in the comment section.