MPs attack arms exports to Indonesia

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Indy Politics

Ministers were accused yesterday of lacking "moral or political backbone" by failing to ensure that British military hardware was not used to suppress rebellion in Indonesia.

Ministers were accused yesterday of lacking "moral or political backbone" by failing to ensure that British military hardware was not used to suppress rebellion in Indonesia.

MPs warned that end-use agreements limiting the use of British arms exports were "not worth the paper they are printed on" because they were not enforced by the Government.

An all-party Commons committee said there was no evidence the Government had monitored the use of Hawk jets and armoured personnel carriers in the country's troubled Aceh province and accused ministers of watering down agreements designed to ensure that the equipment is not used against separatist forces.

The Indonesian government agreed not to use British arms in Aceh as part of its export agreement. But ministers later lifted their demand to be told of its use in advance after Jakarta deployed armoured vehicles to the province for "casualty evacuation and logistical support". They insisted that the Indonesians had given wide- ranging assurances that British-built equipment would not be "used offensively or in violation of human rights" anywhere in the country.

Campaigners have highlighted claims of human rights abuses in the province, amid reports that British-made armoured personnel carriers have been shown on television attacking separatist positions. Yesterday members of the Quadripartite Committee, made up of the defence, foreign affairs, trade and industry and international development committees, said that ministers had accepted the deployment of the vehicles to Aceh "with surprising equanimity". Their report said: "Without more legal or political backbone, end-use assurances are not worth the paper they are written on."

Paul Eavis, director of the charity Saferworld, said: "The Government's commitment to rigorous end-use controls will continue to be undermined by its willingness to accept at face value the guarantees of the Indonesian authorities regarding the use of UK-sourced equipment in Aceh."

Oxfam's head of advocacy, Phil Bloomer, warned: "Unless the Government heeds their advice and takes urgent action, British-sold weapons will continue to end up in war zones where they could be used to kill civilians."

Roger Berry, the chairman of the joint committee, said: "We need to have a constructive debate on arms exports and how the Government controls transfers of other equipment and technology that may have a military use ... It is time for the Government to improve the amount and type of information that it provides about arms exports if it is to convince Parliament and the public that weapons and other potentially dangerous good are not falling into the wrong hands."

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