What might have been in that ammo crate the BBC found in Aleppo, and why it matters
On Monday (October 8, 2012), the BBC published a story that starts like this:
BBC News has uncovered evidence that appears to suggest that weapons intended for the Saudi military have been diverted to Syrian rebels.
The first picture, above this post, shows the label on one of the three crates the BBC team discovered “in a base being used by rebel fighters in the city of Aleppo”.
Let’s try to understand what the label on the crate could mean.
Some things are pretty clear: it comes from Ukraine. It is part of a contract dating from the 17th of February, 2010. The content of the crate was sold to the Ministry of Defense and Aviation, Royal Saudi Land Forces, Saudi Arabia. This is crate number 990 on a total of 1429 sold.
“The crates of ammunition found in an Aleppo mosque were made by the Ukrainian firm Dastan, which specialises in naval weapons and missile complexes”, says the BBC on its website. Actually, according to the label, Dastan would be more like the intermediary in the deal. LCW, in Luhansk, Ukraine, is the plant that produced the content of the crates.
LCW produces a variety of small arms ammunition. Although the BBC was not allowed to see the content of the crates, the chances are quite high that they were ammunition crates.
On the second picture (scroll right or left), above this post, is the headstamp of a 7.62x39mm cartridge seen in September 2012 in a school used as a base by Syrian insurgents in the town of ad-Dana, near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing between Turkey and Syria. The cartridge photographed was made by the same plant, LCW, in the same year, 2010.
What could it mean? It is impossible to draw conclusions on the base of a single sample. We lack information. What do we have? On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, Oleksandr Dykusarov, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman, declared that “Ukraine did not and does not export such products to Syria.” It is thus rather safe to imply that the cartridge we saw in Syria was provided by a foreign country as well. It was made in the same plant, and on the same production year, 2010, but it might have been exported to another country than Saudi Arabia.
This simple cartridge, though, adds to the evidence that foreign countries are diverting weapons and ammunition to support the Syrian insurgents, who are still fighting, after 18 months, against an overpowering foe (links in French, French and Dutch) which appears to having received arms supplies from abroad, as well.
Countries, including thus Saudi Arabia, diverting Ukrainian ammunition to a third party, might fall under the terms of the criterion 7 of the legally biding European Common Position on Export of Military Technology and Equipment, which states that, before issuing arms export licenses, the exporting EU member states have to assess the “existence of a risk that the military technology or equipment will be diverted within the buyer country or re-exported under undesirable conditions”.
Nic R. Jenzen-Jones, an Australian small arms/ammunition specialist which assisted greatly during previous research, has more information, and it’s fascinating: here.
Photos: ammo crate by BBC. Headstamp by the author.
Long overdue: access to Belgian arms export licenses issued between 1982 and 2003 granted, with a “bemol”
This was long overdue. First to you, who reads this post. As you will certainly see by examining the letter below, dated from the 10th of September, I did not do my homework on time. I was a little bit busy in Syria, in September, and now busy writing about it - and there is still work on the table.
Long overdue, it was, also to the public record, the common knowledge, and to transparency, accountability and history.
There is a lot to say about the Belgian arms export licenses granted throughout the years. About what they contain, and how they were handled: We will talk in due time. For now, let’s focus on getting access to them. If one wants to know what Belgium - an important and historic European arms producer and exporter - possibly sold to the world, one would turn to those archives the administration has to send to a special office, who gathers them, works on them, and makes them (some of them), available for research.
We encountered several problems while trying to get access to those archives. Once again, allow us to come back at length on this later. For now, the savor of a small victory.
In July 2012, we asked the Belgian Ministry of Economy to be granted access to the Belgian arms export archives from 1983 to 2003, which are not supposed to be public, but which can be accessible if one has a good reason. Well, we had a good reason, and we still do: we want to map the Belgian arms proliferation.
This access was refused to us. We appealed the decision, asking the Ministry to reconsider it, while asking a special Commission to give its advice. In September, the Ministry changed its position, as you can read in the letter it sent to us, granting us access to the archives.
Now, there’s always something bitter in victory, isn’t there? In Belgium, the federal authority was granting arms export licenses until 2003, then it became regional. But there was a first partial regionalization of the competence in 1991. Therefore, the federal archives dated from after 1991 do not bear as many details as the ones dated from before, and another procedure has to be followed now.
Nonetheless, the pre-1991 archives are very interesting, and we’ll need a lot of time to study them. Well, the ones we found. Because, there, too, we could not get access to everything. That’s another story. And we’ll come back to it, later.
On this picture, found with this article, an Alouette II helicopter reportedly seen during Madagascar’s independance day, yesterday, June 26.
In 2009, the Belgian army sold 23 of those helicopters. As Madagascar was said to be the country of destination, the Ministry of Defense denied and opened the bid to the public. Eventually, the 23 helicopters were sold to a company based in Brussels, MAD Africa Distribution. This company, and its director David Verly, are known to have strong ties to Madagascar. A few month later, 4 Alouette II are seen in Madagascar and are used by the army against bandits.
MAD Africa Distribution didn’t have the proper regional export licence and federal arms dealer licence required to sell such material abroad. Even if “demilitarized”, the helicopters were sold to be used by an army, thus they fall under the Belgian law on arms export. Besides, MAD Africa Distribution didn’t respect the re-export terms of the End User Certificate they signed with the Belgian army. Despite all this, the Ministry of Defense kept on selling military equipments to the company. The latest being 4 Agusta helicopters, in March 2012.