Britain still selling Indonesia arms

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MORE THAN 50 batches of British arms have been sold to Indonesia since Labour announced its new "ethical" foreign policy, it was confirmed yesterday.

The Suharto regime in Jakarta, where riots have raged since six students were shot dead during a demonstration on Tuesday, has been condemned across the world. Many more people have been killed in riots which followed the shootings.

British ministers say they are "concerned" about the situation and are monitoring it, but they have turned down just seven export licence applications for arms since May 1997, while approving 56.

Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, denied that Britain was breaching its policy of not exporting arms which might be used for internal repression. He said: "Sadly it appears to be the case that some of the equipment being used against those rioters is sold from Britain. It would not have been sold under the new criteria we brought in and under which we have refused seven licences.

"There has been a big difference in what we would sell. We have made quite clear that we will not sell equipment that will be used for internal repression."

The fact that Europe was watching, visiting and monitoring the situation in Indonesia amounted to important diplomatic pressure, he said. The only picture of Mr Cook featured in his first annual report on human rights shows him shaking hands with President Suharto.

Yesterday, MPs increased pressure on ministers to allow parliamentary scrutiny of arms sales and for full details to be disclosed. Even now, it is not possible to tell what arms have been sold to Indonesia because only broad categories are given. Fighter jets are in the same category as crash helmets and flamethrowers are listed alongside safety flares.

David Heath, Liberal Democrat MP for Somerton and Frome, said the system of releasing information was hopeless: "You can't tell whether what is being sold is a packet of screws or an armoured car."

Ann Clwyd, Labour MP for Cynon Valley, said Hawk jets given licences under the Tories were being delivered to Indonesia this month. The Government should "presume against" all arms exports to the regime, she said. "Indonesia has a corrupt, rotten government with a terrible record on human rights and we should not be selling arms there."