Blair halts Indonesia arms deals

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The Independent Online
LAST NIGHT Britain suspended the export of all military equipment to Indonesia as international pressure grew to allow United Nations peace- keepers into East Timor.

Tony Blair and Robin Cook agreed that the arms embargo should also cover existing contracts, including nine Hawk aircraft that had already been approved for delivery - a major about-turn. The Government had always insisted that it could not halt the delivery of the jets - despite concerns that they were being used against the people of East Timor - because the contract had been authorised by the last Conservative administration.

In a sign that Indonesia is feeling the heat of international criticism, its Defence Minister and army chief, General Wiranto, signalled yesterday that it may soften its opposition to outside intervention in East Timor. "The offer of an accelerated deployment of an international peace-keeping force must be considered as an option by the Indonesian government," he said, but he later watered down that statement.

The general was in Dili to supervise a one-day visit by a mission of the UN Security Council. The UN delegation, which spent part of the day at the besieged compound of the UN Assistance Mission to East Timor (Unamet), is to meet Indonesia's President, BJ Habibie, and General Wiranto in Jakarta this morning and will seek evidence of any change in Indonesia's position.

Labour has issued 125 export licences for arms to Indonesia since coming to power, prompting criticism of its "ethical" foreign policy, but the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary spoke by telephone yesterday and decided that the delivery of all military equipment should be put on hold indefinitely, in order to send a clear message to Indonesia.

"It is right that we should bring home to the Indonesian army the horror of the whole world at the brutalities they have visited on East Timor," Mr Cook said.

In New Zealand, where Asia-Pacific leaders are holding an economic summit, the US President, Bill Clinton, also announced the suspension of arms exports to Indonesia and promised logistical aid to a seven-nation group, including Britain, which has offered peace-keeping troops.

Tomorrow European Union foreign ministers are expected to approve a Europe-wide ban on arms exports. Plans are also being drawn up to impose economic sanctions on Indonesia. Mr Cook said: "Indonesia should understand this is only the first step. It needs the international community to help sustain its economy, but we cannot help Indonesia if it will not let us help the people of East Timor."

Dili itself was eerily quiet yesterday, but hundreds of burnt-out buildings and an almost total absence of civilians were a testament to the killings and forced expulsions of recent days.

"You cannot cover up what has happened in Dili," Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the British ambassador, said last night. "It has been trashed and shot up."