Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said today that he did not know how South African Ratel armoured infantry carriers may have ended up in strife-torn Yemen.
Radebe was responding to a question from DA MP David Maynier, who has circulated a Reuters photograph taken this week, showing Yemeni soldiers, who had defected to opposition forces battling the regime, sitting on a Ratel in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital city.
Maynier asked Radebe, who is chairman of the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC), whether he was aware of this, and whether the committee was investigating a possible violation of the end-user certificate by another country that had bought Ratel from South Africa.
“There is no evidence that these infantry vehicles were exported directly to Yemen, but my question again is, is the minister aware of this case and is this case being investigated by the NCACC’s inspectorate as a possible violation of user certificate agreements?” Maynier asked.
Radebe replied: “On Yemen, I’m unaware of any rerouting that has happened there. If Mr Maynier has any information he can tell us, but also we will find out from the inspectorate.”
Yemen is gripped by bloody political turmoil as government troops battle Islamic militants and separatist tribesmen.
The NCACC’s yearly report for last year shows South Africa exported R373.8 million worth of conventional arms to Yemen last year.
This included R239 million of Category A weaponry, defined as “sensitive major conventional implements of war that could cause heavy personnel casualties”.
The NCACC approved arms sales of R68.9 million to Libya last year. A breakdown shows Libya bought R1.9 million worth of Category A weapons, R10.7 million of Category B weapons (such as assault rifles) and R56 million of Category C (support items like radios) equipment.
Radebe hastened to add however that South Africa had not exported arms to nations affected by pro-democracy protests that had swept through North Africa and the Middle East this year, including Libya.
“Since the revolution started in North Africa in December, January this year, we have put on hold many of those things and in fact we have denied applications that have come before this committee, but that would be for another time because our main preoccupation for now is really 2010.
“The other countries that we have put on hold in the period under review, where we denied countries such as Gabon, Syria, Yemen, Namibia and Zimbabwe.”
He added: “In terms of the export to Libya, it is indicated there, and the report indicates what category of weapons was sold there, but I need to emphasise that this was in 2010. We have not exported anything in 2011.”
Radebe took exception to repeated demands from Maynier to say whether last year’s arms sales to Libya included sniper rifles.
“He did not answer the question. He could answer it with a simple yes or no. So my question stands,” Maynier said.
Radebe indicated he was not at liberty to disclose the exact nature of the hardware sold to Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, but referred to fact that the categories are indicated in the NCACC report.
“I have answered Mr Maynier, so him saying that I did not answer his question is totally wrong. I cannot answer the way he wants me to answer and he has the answer in front of him, if he has the annual report.
“It is totally irregular for him to want me to answer in the manner in which he wants like he is a principal. I’m not a school boy.”
Asked about the approval of the export of R8 million worth of arms last year to Syria, which is now seeing a crackdown on opposition protests, Radebe said the weapons had in fact been sold to a United Nations peacekeeping operation “that happened to be there”.
“It had nothing to do with a direct authorisation to the Syrian government. It was for a United Nations procurement, nothing else.”