Asia is world's top weapons importer: research group

Asia leads the world when it comes to weapon imports, according to a study released Monday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Globally the volume of international transfers of major conventional weapons was 24 percent higher in the period 2007-11 compared to the 2002-06 period, the report said.

Over the past five years, Asia and Oceania accounted for 44 percent in volume of conventional arms imports, the institute said.

That compared with 19 percent for Europe, 17 percent for the Middle East, 11 percent for North and South America, and 9 percent for Africa, said the report.

India was the biggest arms importer in the period covered, 2007-11, accounting for 10 percent in weapons volume.

It was followed by South Korea (6 percent), China and Pakistan (both 5 percent), and Singapore (4 percent), according to the independent institute which specialises in arms control and disarmament matters.

These five countries accounted for almost a third, 30 percent, of the volume of international arms imports, said SIPRI.

"India's imports of major weapons increased by 38 percent between 2002-06 and 2007-11," SIPRI said.

"Notable deliveries of combat aircraft during 2007-11 included 120 Su-30MKs and 16 MiG-29Ks from Russia and 20 Jaguar Ss from the United Kingdom," it said.

While India was the world's largest importer, its neighbour and sometime foe Pakistan was the third largest.

Pakistan took delivery of "a significant quantity of combat aircraft during this period: 50 JF-17s from China and 30 F-16s," the report added.

Both countries "have taken and will continue to take delivery of large quantities of tanks," it also noted.

"Major Asian importing states are seeking to develop their own arms industries and decrease their reliance on external sources of supply," said Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher with the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme.

China, which in 2006 and 2007 was the world's top arms importer, has now dropped to fourth place.

"The decline in the volume of Chinese imports coincides with the improvements in China's arms industry and rising arms exports," according to the report.

But "while the volume of China's arms exports is increasing, this is largely a result of Pakistan importing more arms from China," it added.

"China has not yet achieved a major breakthrough in any other significant market."

China is however the sixth largest world exporter of weapons behind the United States, Russia, Germany, France and Britain.

In Europe, Greece was the largest importer between 2007 and 2011, the institute said.

Between 2002 and 2011, Syria increased its imports of weapons by 580 percent -- the bulk supplied by Russia -- while Venezuela boosted its imports over the same period by 555 percent, it reported.

Throughout the Middle East as a whole, weapons imports decreased by eight percent over the period of the survey.

However SIPRI warned "this trend will soon be reversed."

Tunisia, where mass protests ousted strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali early last year, launched the so-called Arab Spring and inspired similar movements in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere.

"During 2011, the governments of Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Syria used imported weapons in the suppression of peaceful demonstrations among other alleged violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

"The transfer of arms to states affected by the Arab Spring has provoked public and parliamentary debate in a number of supplier states," the report said.

The volume of deliveries of "major conventional weapons" to African nations increased by a massive 110 percent in 2007-2011 over the previous five-year period, with deliveries to North Africa up by 273 percent.

Morocco saw its own imports increase by 443 percent, the report added.

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