If New Labour is so moral, why sell arms to an Asian dictator?

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The Independent Online
The Government's ethical foreign policy will not prevent ongoing sales of armoured vehicles and water cannon to Indonesia, The Independent has learnt.

Yet yesterday in a Parliamentary written answer, Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, said: "We have made a firm commitment not to permit the sale of arms to regimes that might use them for internal repression or international aggression."

Sources within his department confirmed that export licences issued last December would not be revoked. One of those licences allowed the export of seven armoured water cannon identical to ones used to put down protests in Indonesia, and17 armoured vehicles.

There are also strong doubts about whether ministers will block the planned sale of 16 new Hawk fighter jets to the Suharto regime, which has one of the world's worst human rights records.

A Foreign Office source said the Government feared having to pay compensation to manufacturers if it pulled the plug on the deal with GKN Defence, a Hampshire-based arms manufacturer. "We are not going to pay for the previous administration's mistakes," he said. With tension building in the run- up to Indonesia's general election, British Tactica armoured personnel carriers and water cannons were used this week to break up a march in Jakarta.

Twice last year water cannon were used in Indonesia to spray a substance believed to be CS gas or dye over protesters. In a separate incident, three students died when British-made armoured personnel carriers broke up a demonstration. The former Tory defence minister, Jeremy Hanley, complained to the Indonesian government and it apologised for using excessive force.

Campaigners against the arms trade have repeatedly claimed that Hawk jets have been used to attack civilians in occupied East Timor - reports which have been strongly denied. Officials have hinted that the manufacturer, British Aerospace, might be well advised not to apply for an export licence for the jets until ministers have decided what line to take on the sale.

It is believed that while Foreign Office ministers might hope to prevent new exports of Hawks to Indonesia, the Department of Trade and Industry could argue that valuable jobs in the defence industry would be lost if the licence was refused. The order is worth pounds 300m.

Another Cabinet minister, David Clark, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, has supported the export of Hawk jets to Indonesia. In November 1992, when he was Labour's defence spokesman, he told the New Statesman: "I'd like a world where there was no war and no weapons. But I find it difficult to take a purely moral or moralistic stance."

The Indonesian Minister of Defence and Security, Edi Sudradjat, said this week that he did not believe the Labour government would stop the country from buying the extra jets it wants. "The political change in Britain will not affect our negotiations for an additional purchase," he said at the official handover of eight Hawk-100 trainers and 16 Hawk- 200 all-weather attack fighters exported from Britain before the election.

The United States, historically the largest supplier of military equipment to Indonesia, has recently stopped sales of fighter planes and armoured personnel carriers to the country, though it is still allowing the export of other weapons.

The Liberal Democrats' defence spokesman, Menzies Campbell, said he believed strongly that no more arms should be sold to Indonesia and that existing licences should be revoked. "There was no justification for these export licences being granted in the first instance and a government which puts human rights at the centre of its foreign policy should hardly need to think for a moment before cancelling these licences," he said.

Harriet Lamb, head of campaigns for the World Development Movement, welcomed Mr Cook's statement, but said that he should now back it with action: "The news that no export licences will be revoked is very disappointing and we would urge the government to think again."

Mike Docherty, head of public affairs for GKN Defence, confirmed that the consignment of seven Tactica water cannon, 17 armoured vehicles and 286 Hornet modified Land-Rovers had not all left the country. "Our policy is that we abide by the rules that the Government dictates," he said.

Profit and conscience, 16 and 17

What Cook said

"We have made a firm

commitment not to permit the sale of arms to regimes that might use them for repression or aggression."

Sources say he will not block the sale of

armoured vehicles to a regime which has one of the world's worst

human rights records.

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