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Syria's 'Main Weapons Supplier' Should Be Banned From Attending London Arms Show, Say MPs And Campaigners

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FILE - In this Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012 file photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian president, Bashar Assad, performs Eid prayers in the Hamad Mosque in Damascus, Syria. With even his most powerful ally, Russia, losing faith in him, President Bashar Assad may appear to be heading for a last stand against rebel forces who have been waging a ferocious battle to overthrow him for nearly two years. But Assad still has thousands of elite and loyal troops behind him, and analysts | AP
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Ministers have been accused of "hypocrisy" over their failure to ban Russia's state technology corporation from attending the world's largest arms show, set to be held in the UK next week, despite its arms export wing supplying weapons to the Syrian government.

The visit to London by one of President Bashar al-Assad's main arms suppliers, say campaigners, "beggars belief".

The Russian State Technologies Corporation (Rostec) is an exhibitor at the biennial "Defence Security Equipment International" (DSEI) exhibition, starting next Tuesday in the capital's Excel exhibition centre.

The controversial event brings together 1,500 international exhibitors from more than 50 countries, including the United Arab Emirates, India, Russia and the United States. Nearly 30,000 people from the arms industry are expected to attend the fair, which is supported by the UK government's Ministry of Defence and UK Trade & Investment (UKTI).

Given rising tensions in Syria, Rostec's presence is likely to be controversial as the state corporation's arms export wing, Rosoboronexport, has supplied weapons to Syria. Rosoboronexport's deputy general director, Viktor Komardin, said their contracts had been agreed before 2011 for supplying Tor anti-aircraft and Bastion anti-ship missile systems.

However, Komardin's claims clash with an internal letter released by Human Rights First from the Syrian High Command's Army Supply Bureau to Rosoboronexport, which suggests that President Bashar Al Assad's regime had made new orders for rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, mortor rounds and ammunition.

Speaking to the Huffington Post UK, politicians and campaigners from across the spectrum expressed concern about the presence of Rosobronexport's parent company Rostech in London and called for its invite to be revoked.

Tory MP Brooks Newmark, a member of the Treasury select committee member and supporter of the Syrian opposition, said: "Given my understanding of Rosoboronexport's role in the Russian defence industry and their role in providing missiles to the Assad regime, my belief is that Rostec's invitation to the forthcoming fair should be revoked forthwith."

Labour MP Ann McKechin, a member of the Commons Arms Export Committee, said: "I am deeply concerned that such a company is participating in this event. I believe the government should urgently consider revoking any relevant permission or licence and call on the organisers to cancel their conference place without delay."

Russia has been the Syrian regime's most powerful ally, protecting Assad from consecutive U.N. security resolutions aimed at pressuring him to end violence, arguing instead that the conflict has to be solved through political dialogue with Assad.

Another Labour member of the Arms Export Committee Richard Burden, told HuffPost UK he had "strong concerns about the government’s involvement in the DSEI next week, as the presence of manufacturers involved in arms sales to Syria is undermining the UK's position on human rights.

"I have already questioned Ministers about the extent and nature of the Government's involvement in this event, and the vetting process undertaken for companies participating in this event. I have yet to receive a response.”

Russian president Vladimir Putin recently dismissed American evidence that the Syrian regime was behind a chemical attack on its own citizens as "absolutely unconvincing".

Green MEP Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London, said: "With the world's eyes focused on Syria at the moment it is more pertinent than ever to ask ourselves where the arms sold in deals done at this fair will end up – and who they will be used against.

"Does Britain really want to be associated with this? It is of course, hypocritical in the extreme for our Government to be expressing concern at the way the Syrian regime is using weapons against civilians on the one hand whilst facilitating the sale of the very same weapons on the other.

"Is this how we put pressure on Russia to change its approach towards its support for the Assad regime? "

Arms campaigners are set to hold a week of protests against the DSEI Arms Fair, starting from Friday. This comes after the Huffington Post UK revealed Britain had exported over £2m in chemicals to Syria over April to June 2013.

Kaye Stearman, from the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), said: "Despite having threatened military action against Assad, the UK government seems happy to host his weapons supplier at the DSEI arms fair in London, an event supported by the UK government.

"The hypocrisy is increased by the fact that the government is happy to invite representatives of other brutal dictators to shop for weaponry at DSEI . The same government lists some of the world's worst human rights violators as priority markets for arms sales, with Saudi Arabia at the top of the list."

Roy Isbister, head of arms control at campaigning organisation Saferworld, said: "For the UK to provide this platform for Russia to market its military wares to the wider world beggars belief.”

Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt told MPs on Monday that the government regarded "respect for human rights" and "fundamental freedoms" as "mandatory considerations" in deciding how to invite to the DSEI fair.

"We review invitations in cases where the situation in any one country changes significantly prior to an exhibition," he added.

Rosboronexport declined to comment, referring HuffPost UK to Rostech, but when HuffPost UK tried to contact Rostech they did not respond to requests for comment (despite the fact that the state corporation says on its site that it is "open to cooperation with journalists").

The Ministry of Defence declined to comment. An UKTI spokesman told HuffPost UK that it was the responsibility of events firm Clarion, who run DSEI, "to determine who attends. Of course they will take advice from government departments where appropriate."

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A spokesperson for the DSEI show said: "Any company that wishes to exhibit at DSEI must apply to the show organisers. This requires them to go through a robust compliance process to ensure that all equipment, services, documentation, and any other forms of promotion they wish to exhibit are compliant with UK, EU and international law.

"Ultimately, it is Government policy and the law that determines which companies can exhibit at DSEI and what they can exhibit."

"Those companies approved to exhibit at DSEi are subject to regular compliance checks throughout DSEI which are carried out by HMRC and staff from DSEi’s internal compliance team."

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