South African-made sniper rifles have been captured from forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, the Afrikaans Sunday newspaper, Rapport, reported yesterday. The paper says it has a video taken by anti-Gaddafi forces in the besieged western city of Misrata showing a man in civilian clothing cradling the weapon. A videograb of the man and the rifle was posted on their website.
The paper adds a similar rifle was seen in an al Jazeera-news report on May 29. Rapport quotes a
Tom Wolmarans, whom it says is a former policeman who has worked for the International Criminal Court in The Hague in the Netherlands as saying the weapon in the video has “seven or eight highly unique characteristics” that prove they came from Truvelo Manufacturers in Midrand.
According to the paper other, unidentified, weapons and forensic experts agreed with this opinion.
Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Jeff Radebe in March confirmed South Africa exported military equipment worth some R80.9 million to Libya in the years between 2003 and 2009. Radebe, speaking replying in his capacity as chairman of the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC), told the National Assembly this included shotguns, military vehicles, ammunition, parachutes and night vision equipment. A further question regarding the export of 100 sniper rifles and 50 000 rounds of ammunition last year was not answered.
Opposition Democratic Alliance party’s shadow for defence, David Maynier, in February he understood the rifles and ammunition may have been exported to Libya late last year. “The company alleged to have exported the sniper rifles and ammunition not only lists Libya as a target market in Africa, but also exhibited sniper rifles at an arms fair in Libya in 2008,” he said. “We understand that the export of the sniper rifles and ammunition was authorised by the NCACC.”
Maynier did not name the company, but it is known several South African companies have taken part in recent editions of the Libyan Aviation Exhibition (LAVEX) and the Libyan Defence, Safety and Security Exhibition (LIBDEX). The website of Truvelo, the manufacturer of high-accuracy rifles, notes they attended the 2008 edition of LIBDEX.
Radebe had in February stated SA had sold weapons to Libya, but declined to specify what, citing contractual commercial confidentiality. He added that there is no evidence at the time that any of the equipment had been used by Libyan government forces to kill civilians. “In 2010 the NCACC duly authorised arms trade between South African companies operating in defence-related industry and the Republic of Libya. A number of other transactions were also considered at that time,” the NCACC said in a statement.
According to international news reports civilians have been shot dead during protests an funerals with sniper rifles on several occasions since the start of civil conflict in the north African state in February. United Nations Children’s Fund spokeswoman Marixie Mercado reportedly told the paper women and children were a common deliberate target.
Truvelo director Ralf Gebert declined speaking to the paper regarding the export. “There are procedures in SA we follow. We keep to the rules and regulations and that’s that. We are not prepared to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”
In a statement yesterday Maynier said it will hand a copy of the video material to the Public Protector “who is in the process of investigating the possible illegal sale of sniper rifles and ammunition to Libya in 2010.” Maynier added the “law regulating the conventional arms trade in South Africa states that we will not trade in conventional arms with states engaged in repression, aggression or terrorism.
The Public Protector will hopefully go through the NCACC’s bottom draws and determine how it is that we exported highly lethal conventional weapons such as sniper rifles to a repressive regime like Libya. The fact is that the sniper rifles and ammunition should never have been sold to Libya. We cannot sit back and allow South Africa to become an armoury for dictators around the world.”
“The video material of the sniper rifle, which was published in the weekend newspapers, provides proof that the sniper rifles were exported to Libya. Please find a link to this news story here. After months of stonewalling … Radebe … has finally been caught out.”