Britain urged to halt Indonesia arms trade

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The Independent Online
Indonesia's most prominent prisoner of conscience has called on Tony Blair to stop arms sales to his country, amid plans for a high-level visit to Britain by a group of Indonesian generals.

"As Prime Minister and leader of the Labour Party, I hope that Tony Blair will give serious attention to the problems in Indonesia, including the labour situation," imprisoned trade union leader Muchtar Pakpahan said. "I hope that he will stop selling weapons to Indonesia, weapons which are used for human rights violations."

In an interview with The Independent in his guarded hospital room in Jakarta, Mr Pakpahan appealed to Britain to apply pressure for his release, and to provide aid only to projects which contain guarantees of human rights.

The Independent has learned that a senior delegation of military officers, led by General Feisal Tanjung, Commander in Chief of the Indonesian Armed Forces, hopes to visit Britain for official talks. The question of arms sales is very likely to be raised.

Such contracts, although lucrative, would be controversial, especially given the promise made by the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, that "the Labour Government will put human rights at the heart of our foreign policy". Britain has already supplied Hawk fighters, which human rights campaigners contend have been used against the people of East Timor. The manufacturer, British Aerospace, denies this.

"Please link diplomatic aid to human rights," Mr Pakpahan said. "Make it a condition that they allow freedom of association to trade unions."

He has been in detention since last July, when he was accused by military officers, including General Tanjung, of "masterminding" pro-democracy riots which rocked Jakarta. These charges were quietly dropped but, along with 14 other democracy activists, Mr Pakpahan has been tried for the capital crime of subversion.

His trial has been suspended since March, when he became seriously ill after suffering a stroke and appendicitis. He has a tumour on his lung, but his requests to travel abroad for treatment have received no official response.

Support for Mr Pakpahan and for his trade union, the Indonesian Prosperous Workers' Union (SBSI), has been expressed internationally, and he has met officials from the US, France, Germany, Australia and other countries. "Of all the major powers, Britain is the only one with which we don't have close relations."

Indonesia is the world's fourth biggest beneficiary of British aid, with pounds 57m last year. Aides to Clare Short, the new Secretary of State for International Development, have reassured supporters of Mr Pakpahan that Labour policy towards Indonesia will change. "But there hasn't been anything concrete," said one campaigner in London. "We wrote to Robin Cook about Muchtar three weeks ago. So far we haven't had a reply."