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German Arms in Georgia?

DW staff (sp)August 17, 2008

Georgian elite forces fighting Russia in the breakaway region of South Ossetia were illegally armed with German assault rifles in a blatant violation of Germany's arms export laws, according to a TV report.

An armed Georgian soldier on patrol in South Ossetia
Georgian forces were allegedly armed with the G36, a German 5.56 mm assault rifleImage: picture-alliance/dpa/DW

The report by German public broadcaster ARD, which was to be aired late on Sunday, claims that Georgian elite forces in the rebel province of South Ossetia were supplied with German weapons manufactured by arms company Heckler & Koch based in the south-western German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg.

A man in a wheelchair passes a destroyed tank in South Ossetia
South Ossetia was the scene of heavy fighting last weekImage: AP

The broadcaster's "Report Mainz" program shows images of Georgian soldiers in South Ossetia with German-made assault rifles slung over their shoulders, German media reported.

The German arms manufacturer refused to comment on the report, the broadcaster said.

Weapons exported illegally to Georgia?

It remains unclear how the German weapons made their way into the war zone. The German Economics Ministry insisted it had not issued a permit for the supply of the German arms to Georgia, the report said.

It cited British magazine Jane's Defence Weekly as saying that Heckler & Koch had applied to the German government to supply 230 models of the G36, a German 5.56 mm assault rifle, in different versions to Georgia.

But the German Economics Ministry rejected the application on grounds that Georgia was involved in a war, according to the magazine.

Juergen Graesslin with a sign saying "Stop the G36"
Graesslin has come out against arms exportsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"If weapons which the German government has not approved for export now appear someplace, we have to assume they have been illegally exported," the German television report quoted the chairman of the Armaments Information Office in Freiburg, Juergen Graesslin as saying.

According to German law, all arms exports need to be approved by the government. The lion's share of Germany's exported armaments goes to NATO partners and European countries -- sales to which Berlin will generally give the green light.

But when it comes to other countries, the deal has to meet certain stipulations laid out in arms export guidelines. For instance, Germany is barred from exporting arms to conflict zones.

Germany has come under criticism in the past for approving arms exports to dictatorships in the Middle East, to Israel when it was involved in a war and to other nations in the developing world.

Politician calls for arms export ban

Ottfried Nassauer, head of the Berlin Information Center for Transatlantic Security told the broadcaster the incident highlighted flaws in Germany's monitoring of arms export guidelines.

"It doesn't matter how these weapons landed in Georgia, whether they were illegally exported from Germany, whether a licensed exporter violated German laws or whether a recipient of the weapons who acquired them legally in Germany, further exported them," Nassauer said.

A soldier with a G36 assault rifle
The 5.56 mm G36 assault rifle was accepted in the German armed forces in 1997Image: AP

"In any case, the incident shows that there's a problem with the monitoring of Germany's arms export regulations and the monitoring of the final destination of such weapons."

The report prompted an angry reaction from Germany's opposition Green party.

Green lawmaker Hans-Christian Stroebele told the broadcaster the case showed that the German government's yearly pledges not to export small arms to conflict zones are "worth nothing."

Stroebele called for a complete ban on weapons exports if the German government's system to ensure arms export guidelines are adhered to prove to be ineffective.