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The long overdue move to update British arms controls dating back to the beginning of the Second World War follows a change in the historic reluctance of the Department of Trade and Industry to impose effective controls.

The expected proposal to register arms exporters and dealers would be an important step forward. However, it would have to allow prior scrutiny of all individual arms deals before equipment was shipped if it were to have any chance of being effective.

One of the largest loopholes in the current legislation – overseas licensed production deals - seems extremely unlikely to be covered by the draft bill. Under such schemes British companies entirely evade all controls by licensing the manufacture of their products overseas.

Under such a deal Heckler and Koch UK (a subsidiary of British Aerospace) licensed Turkish arms manufacturer MKEK to make its sub-machineguns, 500 of which were then reported to have been sent to Indonesian police at a time when the Indonesian security forces were involved in widespread human rights abuses in East Timor.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'People in Britain are extremely concerned about arms deals that make this county complicit in atrocities overseas and they have waited too long to be satisfied by half-measures. Britain needs tough new arms controls and it needs them now.'

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