Oxfam says the Viktor Bout case shows better arms controls are vital

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The failed extradition of arms dealer Viktor Bout from Thailand to the US yesterday highlights the need for better arms controls, international aid agency Oxfam says.
“Bout is alleged to have sold weapons to combatants in some of the world`s worst war zones from the end of the Cold War until 2008, when he was arrested in Thailand,” Oxfam says in a statement sent defenceWeb.  

The aid agency says an Arms Trade Treaty, currently being discussed by the United Nations, will help regulate arms dealers and make it harder for them to break embargoes.

Anna MacDonald, Head of Control Arms for Oxfam, says 42-year-old Bout faces allegations that he supplied weapons to many of the world`s worst conflicts.

“These conflicts destroyed lives and wrecked many fragile economies, condemning millions to a life of poverty. If the allegations are true then Mr Bout will have supplied weapons which were used to commit human rights abuses.
“In October the United Nations will decide whether to begin formal negotiations on an Arms Trade Treaty. The world must urgently grasp this opportunity to regulate the arms trade and stop unscrupulous arms dealers plying their vicious trade so easily,” MacDonald says.
Reuters reports the US is seeking Bout on charges of supplying weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
“The US charges are not applicable under Thai law. This is a political case,” said judge Jittakorn Wattanasin in delivering the verdict at Bangkok’s Criminal Court.
“The FARC is fighting for a political cause and is not a criminal gang. Thailand does not recognise the FARC as a terrorist group.”

Bout was arrested in a Thai-US sting operation at a Bangkok hotel in March 2008 after arriving from Moscow.

Dressed in washed-out orange prison fatigues, Bout smiled as the judged read the ruling and made a “V” sign to signal victory as he left the court. Thai prosecutors have 72 hours in which to appeal against the decision.
“We’re disappointed and mystified by the lower court ruling,” said James Entwistle, deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Thailand.
“We will consult the Thai government. We understand they want to file a petition and we support that.”

The case has forced the country into a legal and diplomatic tug-of-war between long-time ally the United States, and Russia, with which relations have warmed in recent years.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry welcomed the decision and looked forward to his early release, Interfax news agency reported.
“We view this decision with satisfaction and we hope that in the nearest future, Viktor Bout will return to the motherland,” Interfax quoted a ministry spokesman as saying.

US prosecutors allege Bout has been trafficking arms since the 1990s, using a fleet of cargo planes to send weapons to Africa, South America and the Middle East.

According to the US indictment, Bout had told agents he could supply them with 700 to 800 surface-to-air missiles, 5000 AK-47 assault rifles, millions of rounds of ammunition, C-4 explosives, land mines and unmanned aerial vehicles.

The US had hoped to try him on four separate charges, three of which could land him in prison for life if found guilty.

Bout is alleged to have sold or brokered arms deals that have helped fuel wars in Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan.

The character played by Nicholas Cage in the 2005 movie “Lord of War” is loosely based on the Russian’s alleged exploits. A British minister labelled him “a merchant of death”.

Bout has denied involvement in the illegal arms trade and has maintained he was only involved in cargo transportation.