Magazine article Times Higher Education

Portsmouth Defends 'Prestigious' Military Training Pact with Oman: News

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Portsmouth Defends 'Prestigious' Military Training Pact with Oman: News

Article excerpt

Critics point to sultanate's repression as contract fee remains confidential. David Matthews reports.

The University of Portsmouth has defended a contract to train military engineers in Oman after a campaign group warned that the deal would enable "internal repression".

In April, the university announced that it had won a "prestigious contract" to help develop four military engineering degrees for Oman's Military Technological College.

The government-funded college expects to enrol 1,000 students in September, and up to 4,200 students will be trained in total, the university said.

Oman is a sultanate in which criticism of the absolute ruler, Qaboos bin Said, is forbidden and political parties are outlawed.

Amnesty International has accused the Gulf state's security forces of killing at least one protester during demonstrations in 2011 after rubber bullets and tear gas were fired into a crowd.

Oman is deemed "not free" by the Washington-based thinktank Freedom House, although it is ranked as less oppressive than its neighbour Saudi Arabia.

A spokeswoman from the Campaign Against Arms Trade said that the military engineers would be "using, supporting and maintaining" the country's weapons - including warships, fighter jets and small arms sold to Oman by the UK.

"Oman has an authoritarian government and there is a real likelihood that this weaponry will be used for internal repression or in regional conflict," she said.

Djamel Ait-Boudaoud, dean of Portsmouth's faculty of technology, said that Oman was a "major strategic and business partner of the United Kingdom". …

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