Arms deals 'linked to biggest increases in overseas aid': Countries benefit after placing orders for weapons

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COUNTRIES that buy British weapons are receiving increasing amounts of overseas aid.

Major arms purchasers like Jordan, Indonesia and Oman are among the countries showing the biggest increases in British aid during the past few years. According to research compiled by World Development Movement (WDM), a Third World pressure group, despite their relative wealth, the three countries have shown dramatic rises in British aid.

The research will fuel claims of government critics that arms orders have replaced poverty and development potential as aid criteria. Aid, they claim, is used a sweetener for landing lucrative arms deals.

King Hussein of Jordan, who signed a pounds 270m order for electronic warfare equipment, anti-aircraft installations and other military hardware with Mrs Thatcher in 1985, has seen a 214.3 per cent increase in aid since 1980. Jordan's GNP per capita of dollars 1,050 is far higher than that of Pakistan (dollars 400) and India (dollars 330) yet its aid has shot up while theirs has stagnated.

Indonesia, which bought pounds 500m worth of Hawk military aircraft last year and has placed other orders over the last decade, has seen its aid rise by 196 per cent since 1980.

Oman was the first country to buy the Challenger II tank and has also bought aircraft and air-defence systems from Britain. Despite being oil-rich and having a GNP per capita of dollars 6,120, it still receives more aid per capita than Ethiopia. Other arms-buying countries to benefit from increasing amounts of British aid include Thailand and Nigeria.

Earlier this week, Sir Tim Lankester, former permanent secretary at the Overseas Development Administration, described the pumping of pounds 234m of aid into the Pergau dam project in Malaysia, another major arms buyer, as an 'abuse'.

In the Commons, the Prime Minister sought to justify his decision to back Pergau - condemned as unnecessary and uneconomic by the National Audit Office - on the ground that it resulted in export orders with Malaysia. These are thought to have included the sale of pounds 1.3bn worth of weapons to the country, which has a GNP per capita of dollars 2,520.

Ben Jackson, of WDM, said the research gave 'strong grounds for further investigation into Britain's aid policy.' He called upon the Prime Minister 'to come clean: is Britain's aid there to arm the world or help the poor?' One of the stated priorities of the aid programme, Mr Jackson said, was the promotion of good governance - yet some of the biggest recipients, like Indonesia, Oman and Nigeria, had poor human rights records.

Tom Clarke, Labour's aid spokesman, said the research showed Pergau 'was the tip of the iceberg'.

An ODA spokesman denied British aid was governed by arms sales and went to countries that did not deserve it. 'Aid goes to a large number of countries around the world. At the forefront of the ODA's mind are the criteria of sustainable development and economic growth.'

Michael Meacher, Labour's open government spokesman, yesterday wrote to the Prime Minister demanding he publish all the relevant documentation on Pergau. This followed the Government's refusal to hand over a crucial memorandum on the project to the Public Accounts Committee.

Mr Meacher said he shared Mr Major's stated wish that only national security should prevent disclosure of information. He failed to see how that could apply to an overseas aid project.