The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Belgium furore over arms sale to Nepal

Brussels, Aug. 27 (Reuters): A top Belgian Green minister said today she was resigning in protest at the sale of 5,500 machineguns to conflict-torn Nepal, but Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said he stuck by the deal.

Several Members of Parliament, including some from parties forming Belgium’s six-party coalition government, have attacked last month’s deal because Belgian law bans arms exports to countries engaged in civil war.

The Nepalese government is engaged in an increasingly violent war against Maoist rebels. The mountain state’s Prime Minister was coincidentally in Brussels as the furore broke.

“The decision on the shipment of arms to Nepal has become increasingly difficult for me in the past few days, especially when it became known that Germany had refused a shipment (of arms),” health minister Magda Aelvoet told a news conference.

“These considerations increasingly began to weigh. That’s why I have decided to get out of the dilemma and to resign from the government,” she said. She officially announced her resignation late yesterday.

However, Aelvoet, 58, who also holds a post as vice-Prime Minister, immediately played down speculation that her resignation could result in a Cabinet crisis.

“I take full responsibility. I do not want to involve my party in this as the Greens are, and remain, necessary in the government,” she said.

A parliamentary debate, even a vote of confidence, were not ruled out, green transport minister Isabelle Durant said.

Verhofstadt, who met Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba in Brussels yesterday, said he planned to defend the arms deal in parliament.

“I think the decision we took was the right one,” he told a news conference. “The choice is between a young democracy on the one hand and a terrorist organisation which wants to install a communist dictatorship on the other hand.”

Aelvoet’s successor would be appointed tomorrow, Verhofstadt said.

Some political experts said Aelvoet — who campaigned for decriminalising cannabis use and legalising euthanasia — would be hard to replace.

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