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British Prime Minister David Cameron sparked concern among development charities on Thursday after suggesting that aid money could be diverted towards military operations in fragile states.
Britain is on course to meet its United Nations target of spending 0.7 percent of national income on overseas aid this year, after Cameron vowed to protect the development budget from his government's austerity drive.
But the prime minister suggested that the Department for International Development (DfID) share some of its resources with the Ministry of Defence (MoD), which is facing major cuts to its budget.
"We should be thinking very carefully about how we help states that have been riven with conflict and war," Cameron said in remarks made during his trip to India and released by his office on Thursday.
"It is obviously true that if you can help deliver security and help provide stability and help with stabilisation, that is the base from which all development can proceed."
He said that DfID was no longer seen as "a sort of giant NGO (non-governmental organisation)" but part of the government which worked closely with the Foreign Office and the MoD -- including by pooling resources for conflict prevention, stabilisation and peacekeeping.
"If you’re asking, can they work even more closely together, can we make sure that the funds we have at our disposal are used to provide basic levels of stability and security in deeply broken and fragile states, then yes, we should. I think that’s an important part of development," Cameron said.
His remarks drew fire from charities.
"Millions of people up and down the country who support the fantastic stance the government is taking protecting the aid budget expect this money to be spent on schools and not soldiers," said Max Lawson, head of policy at Oxfam UK.
Christian Aid warned the lives of aid workers overseas could be put at risk.
"The blurring of the lines between military action and aid delivery could mean that aid workers become associated with those forces, meaning they are not only put at risk, but find it hard to gain the trust of the people they are trying to help," the charity said in a statement.
It added: "The best way to bring about peace and stability is through poverty reduction."