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UK row over India arms sale

Hawk trainer jet
A Hawk trainer jet of the type India wants to buy  

LONDON, England -- The UK government has become embroiled in controversy over a £1 billion arms sale to India at the same time its foreign secretary is in the area trying to reduce tension.

Jack Straw flew out to Pakistan this week in an attempt to find a solution to the deepening crisis between the country and its neighbour India over the disputed region of Kashmir.

But some politicians have said his mission was flawed because of a BAE Systems deal to sell 66 Hawk trainer jets to India.

One member of the UK House of Lords accused Straw during a special questions session on Tuesday of being an "arms broker" rather than a "peace broker."

Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour government came to power in 1997 promising to adopt a more ethical policy towards arms sales, not selling to regimes which may use it for external aggression or internal suppression.

Media reports said Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt had last week imposed a ban on exporting arms to India to take into account the changing circumstances, but the government has denied the reports.

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One Labour MP, Martin O'Neil, who chairs the Trade and Industry select committee, said it would be "criminally wrong" to carry on selling arms.

CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley said: "Certainly, the British government appears to have got itself caught.

"The government is speaking with two voices. It cannot make Straw's job any easier."

India accuses elements within the Pakistani state structure of arming, funding and training Islamic militant groups it blames for a series of attacks on Indian targets.

Pakistan denies the charge, saying only that it gives moral support to groups seeking self-determination for the people of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir. (Full story)

Blair's spokesman and Hewitt's department have both insisted that no arms embargo has been applied, as all deals are considered under Europe-wide rules on a case by case basis.

Foreign Office minister Ben Bradshaw said on Tuesday: "There is no formal arms embargo but clearly the current state of tension between India and Pakistan willinform the sorts of decisions that we make and we will stick rigidly to those criteria.

"We have to take the level of tension (into account) ... so obviously if tensions are high the risk is higher that equipment could be used."

Downing Street stressed that the £1 billion deal could not even be considered until it was completed and submitted for approval.

The UK is the world's second-largest arms supplier, and the industry employs 2,500 people in the UK.

Sir Ken Jackson, leader of the union Amicus which represents these workers, told the UK Press Association: "If we won't sell aircraft to India, then there are a queue of other countries which would step in."




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