Belgian military forces in Mali are at risk of being shot with Belgian weapons and munition that have fallen into the hands of Islamic rebels. The weapons come from Libya but were furnished by previous Belgian governments, material evidence and archive research shows. They have been circulating in the Arab world since the Libyan revolution.

Damien Spleeters dove down into arms trade in Africa. The rebels and weapons that flooded Mali from Libya is often regarded as the final push that urged Mali into chaos. The link is obvious. Still, it had to be documented. That happened recently, probably unintentionally, when a Reuters photographer shot a picture that neatly fit into the complex puzzle. And the straw that broke the camel's back is a weapon made in Belgium.

In the past, Damien Spleeters had already investigated what had happened with the state documents of the Belgian arms deal with Libya in the crucial period between 1975 and 1979. Where had the licenses gone for weapons that currently destabilise the entire Sahel region, especially Mali? They have been destroyed, he found out.

Documents of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, which at the time was in charge of arms export, never reached the Public Records Office where they should in principle be publicly accessible. In 1977 a member of the Directorate-General of the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared, as a result of a briefing to the Belgian ambassador in Libya, that "Libya has become our main client, as far as arms trade is concerend". Then he reminded people that a contract worth 5 or 6 billion old Belgian francs with a two- or three-year term was signed in august of that same year. "Nearly half of FN Herstal and Poudreries Réunies de Belgique's (PRB) turnover comes from sales to Libya", says the diplomatic report that can be found in the archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Team members

Damien Spleeters

Damien Spleeters (1986) is the Deputy Director of Operations at Conflict Armament Research.

A working grant of € 4,850, allocated on 13/09/2012.

'Munitie nodig voor je revolutie? In Libië ligt ‘een handig Belgisch arsenaal’' (De Morgen, 2 maart 2013)

Archieven Belgische wapenexport illegaal vernietigd (Apache.be, 31/01/2013)

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