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Canada suspends sale of military drone technology to Turkey

OTTAWA, Canada: The Canadian foreign affairs department announced that the country has cancelled export permits to Turkey for drone technology after a government review found that Canadian-made systems had been used by Azerbaijan in the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

In a statement on Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said the review “found credible evidence” that Canadian technology was used in the disputed territory during six weeks of fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia late last year.

In early October, Canada suspended the export permits to Turkey after reports surfaced that the Azerbaijani military, which was backed by Ankara, was using drone imaging and targeting sensor systems manufactured by a Canadian company.

“This use was not consistent with Canadian foreign policy, nor end-use assurances given by Turkey,” Garneau said in the statement.

He also said he spoke with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, to open a dialogue “to build confidence and greater cooperation on export permits”.

“Turkey is an important NATO ally and applications related to NATO cooperation programmes will be assessed on a case-by-case basis,” Garneau added.

Earlier, Turkey said Cavusoglu had urged Canada to review the defence industry restrictions.

“He conveyed concerns about Canada’s stance on defence industry restrictions imposed on Turkey and requested their review,” the Turkish foreign ministry said, as reported by the Reuters news agency.

Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but had been under the control of ethnic Armenians backed by the Armenian government since a war in the mountainous region led to a ceasefire in 1994.

But six weeks of intense fighting broke out between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces last year, and a Russian-brokered ceasefire, under which Armenia handed over disputed territory, was reached in November.

Amnesty International accused both sides of repeatedly attacking residential areas far from the front lines in violation of international humanitarian law, noting in a January report that weapons including cluster munitions were used.

Canada’s decision to scrap the export permits comes after anti-war group Project Ploughshares had raised concerns last fall (autumn) about Turkey’s use of drone technologies manufactured by L3Harris WESCAM, the Canadian subsidiary of US defence company L3Harris, in several conflict zones.

Cesar Jaramillo, Ploughshares executive director welcomed the announcement on Monday, saying “even if it has been months since it became clear that Canadian arms exports were being unlawfully diverted to Nagorno-Karabakh”.

“Importantly, it was civil society and the media who identified these instances of diversion, not the Canadian government. This raises questions about the effectiveness of post-export verification mechanisms at Ottawa’s disposal,” Jaramillo said in an email.

“Would Canada still be exporting weapons technology to Turkey had the government not been alerted about its misuse?”

In its final report on the review of export permits to Turkey, the Canadian government said it found “credible evidence that Bayraktar TB2 UAVs – equipped with Canadian sensors – have been used the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh”.

It said it was not aware of any credible evidence that other Canadian military goods and technologies were used in the conflict.

Canada also temporarily suspended new arms export permits to Turkey in 2019 after Turkish forces launched an operation in northeast Syria.

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