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UK parliament queries British arms exports to Syria, Iran and others

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron waits to welcome his Italian counterpart Enrico Letta on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street in central
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron waits to welcome his Italian counterpart Enrico Letta on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street in central

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain has granted billions of pounds worth of military export licenses for countries such as Syria, Iran and Libya despite proclaiming deep concerns about their human rights records, the British parliament said on Wednesday.

In a critical report, parliament's Committees on Arms Export Controls said Britain had approved licenses for weapons exports to 27 countries worth 12.3 billion pounds ($18.6 billion) highlighting the "inherent conflict" between its arms exports policy and its human rights policy.

"The government should apply significantly more cautious judgments when considering arms export license applications for goods to authoritarian regimes 'in contravention of the government's stated policy'," said John Stanley, the chairman of the committees.

It was not clear whether goods had actually been shipped to the countries for which arms export licenses had been given.

Parts for bullet-proof vehicles and underwater listening devices were approved for export to Syria while Iran licenses covered civil aircraft and a range of military electronic equipment including 80 million pounds' worth of encryption devices and software.

Britain has long been at odds with Iran over its disputed nuclear program, and with Syria, where it supports opposition groups seeking to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

It says it observes United Nations and European Union trade sanctions on Iran, as well as EU measures against Syria that had included an arms embargo which lapsed in May, mainly because Britain and France wanted the option of arming Syrian rebels.

The high number and value of the arms export licenses, details of which were released for the first time, were surprising given that the government has flagged serious human rights abuses in some of the countries, the report said.

It said such exports might contravene the government's own policy not to supply goods to countries on its list of human rights concerns where any items exported "might be used to facilitate internal repression".

The report gave details of 3,074 licenses for the export of "strategic controlled goods", which can have dual military and civilian use. The products covered by the licenses ranged from communications equipment to body armor and sniper rifles.

It said it would scrutinize whether specific exports to countries such as China, Iran, Sri Lanka and Russia complied with the government's export rules.

Prime Minister David Cameron's official spokesman said the British government had one of the most rigorous arms export control regimes in the world.

($1 = 0.6613 British pounds)

(Reporting by William James; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Alistair Lyon)

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