The uprisings in the Arab world have led to extreme violence in the country which has suffered the longest-standing and most repressive dictatorship of the Arab world. Due to the lack of information from the press, we suppose that the protests took place against repression on a smaller scale, perhaps at the hands of Libyan security forces who, when faced with the success of these uprisings, did not want to face their people. Therefore it is presumed that those who are using military strategies are mercenaries. It is very difficult to know where these soldiers are coming from and whether they form part of private military organisations, which are playing an increasingly important role in current armed conflicts. It is also difficult to know what arms we are talking about when we hear the news that fighter planes and helicopters are shooting at the civilian population. However, it is not impossible to find out this information.
If we look over the arms sales to Libya in recent years, recorded in the prestigious Swedish centre SIPRI, we can see that France sold 100 MILAN model anti-tank missiles to Gaddafi in 2009 for 168 million Euros, and that Italy also sold 10 A-109K helicopters for border patrols (6 of which have been delivered) for 80 million Euros. Perhaps some of the 96 Kh-35 Uran missiles sold by Russia are being used – they can be shot from helicopters.
On the other hand, based on EU reports on arms exports, in 2008 European countries as a whole sold arms to Libya worth 215 million Euros, and in 2009 the amount totalled 344 million Euros. In particular, there are the category 1 arms, which are rifles, revolvers and pistols and machine guns, and category 10, which include fighter planes. Therefore, the arms sold by the EU in recent years could be the arms being used in order to violently repress the peaceful protests in recent days. The European state which is the closest trading partner is, as is to be expected, Italy, which reached sales of 205 million dollars in the years 2008-2009, the majority of which were sales of fighter planes, many of them helicopters. Another clue which could help us try and understand the rising/ increasing arms trade between the two countries, is that the Italian arms company Finmeccanica, 32.5% of which is supported/ owned?? by the Italian Ministry of Economy, and which has the LIA (Libyan Invstment Authority, as a shareholder in the company. The Libyan governmental authority, holds 2.01% of shares in this company, and it wanted to increase this quota to 3% so as to be able to hold a seat on the company’s board of directors. With this in mind, it is perhaps easier to understand the declarations made by the Italian president and his foreign ministers, who are blocking the most forceful EU resolutions on the violence carried out against the Libyan civilian population. One must also highlight Malta, which sold Gaddafi around 80 million Euros worth of small arms and munitions, probably from Italian arms companies based in their territory. It is also worth mentioning the sales of arms made to Libya by France (143 million Euros), Germany (57 million), United Kingdom (53 million) and Portugal (21 million). Spain, despite being one of the largest arms exporters in the world, does not count Lybia as one of its main clients, although one must mention the fact that in 2008 and 2009, trade in military material made between Spain and Libya reached approximately 4 million Euros, even though they were sales which were authorised but which have not been delivered.
The lifting of the European arms sales embargo towards Libya, only a couple of years ago, now shows how a wrong decision was made for the umpteenth time, based on prioritising the commercial interests of the EU, to the detriment of the defence of human rights and democracy. Fortunately, the representative for EU foreign affairs, Catherine Ashton, did not delay announcing that the EU has suspended all arms trade with Libya. The EU, however, should not forget to apologise for having profited from a dictatorial regime and repressor such as Gaddafi. Furthermore, it should show strong support and commitment towards a democratic liberation process in Libya, siding with the civilian population, by isolating and persecuting Gaddafi until Libya is a democratic state.
This article was first published in Público 24/02/2011