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Weapons row reignites Walloon-Flemish spat

10 March 2005
BRUSSELS – The controversy over arms export licences to Tanzania is threatening to open up old wounds within Belgium.
With a Wallonian minister under fire for her decision to grant an export licence for the construction of a munitions factory, the French-speaking press and Wallonian politicians have hit back at Flanders for hypocrisy over its own record.
In the first six months of 2004, Flanders granted more export licences for arms that French-speaking Wallonia, screamed the Wallonian press on Thursday.
According to newspaper reports, 313 licences were granted in Wallonia to the value of EUR 222 million, compared with 143 licences in Flanders to the tune of EUR 260 million.
Although Wallonia is delivering more “visible” military equipment, Flanders is exporting electronic and optical systems that clearly have a military purpose, says the press.
The furore has also sparked a bitter response from Wallonian politicians.
“Flanders has no right to be preaching moral lessons to Wallonia,” retorted cdH MP Louis Smal.
The controversy began when Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht publicly criticised Wallonian External Affairs Minister Marie-Dominique Simonet.
Simonet had given the go ahead for a Liege company to export equipment to build a munitions factory in Tanzania.
The federal authorities, including Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, are concerned that arms made in the factory will be used to destabilise neighbouring countries, including the volatile Democratic Republic of Congo.
The affair has prompted furious debate among Belgian politicians, with the Greens also arguing strongly against the decision.
A parliamentary committee is currently investigating the dossier behind closed doors.
The matter has been complicated by the strict separation of powers between the federal and regional authorities.
In 2003, regional governments were granted the right to issue export licences and are fiercely guarding this power against any encroachment from Brussels.
[Copyright Expatica 2005]

Subject: Belgian news