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Standoff looming over Tanzanian arms factory

Published on 09/03/2005

9 March 2005

BRUSSELS – The federal and wallonian governments are at loggerheads over a controversial decision to help Tanzanian build a munitions factory.

Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt has now entered the furore after his Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht slammed the Wallonians for selling parts to build an armaments factory in Tanzania.

Verhofstadt has echoed De Gucht’s concerns that the factory’s munitions could be used to fuel the conflict in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi where Belgium has been striving to keep the peace.

The prime minister said he had reservations about the decision by Wallonian External Relations Minister Marie-Dominique Simonet to grant an export licence to the New Lachaussee factory in Liege for the project.

Verhofstadt has argued that the move could undermine the Belgian government’s policy to broker peace in the troubled African region.

But he conceded that the federal government could not intervene in the business of granting export licences.

“I am concerned about the situation in Africa and I have reservations about this export licence,” Verhofstadt told De Morgen newspaper.

“We would be better off building factories rather than an armaments factory in Tanzania,” he added.

Simonet’s decision was sanctioned by Wallonian President Jean-Claude Van Cauwenberghe.

Van Cauwenberghe initially blocked the licence one year ago, when he was minister in charge of the affair.

This has led some commentators in the Belgian press speculating as to whether he has hung Simonet out to dry.

Simonet said she had been “surprised” by the strong opposition from De Gucht.

“I was never given the slightest indication or message from the minister about this licence although it was made public weeks ago,” she said.

She reminded De Gucht that it had been his VLD party in 2003 that had fought for the regionalisation of the granting of export licences, loosening the grip of Belgian’s wider foreign policy aims.

Simonet added that the lack of information provided by the foreign ministry had also contributed to the decision in New Lachausee’s favour.

Licences requested by Tanzania from other European countries had never been refused, she said.

Wallonian Finance Minister Jean-Claude Marcourt has sprung to his colleague’s defence, arguing that Simonet weighed up the pros and cons and made an objective decision.

“The Wallonian Executive should stand behind its minister, especially when she is attacked from the outside. I don’t want to fall into the trap of De Gucht who is looking for controversy,” he said.

But the affair has opened up fierce debate within the Belgian government.

Ecolo MP Josy Dubie invited Simonet to take a trip to the Great Lakes to grasp the problems the conflict was causing in the region.

[Copyright Expatica 2005]

Subject: Belgian news