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UK sold 260m pounds arms to government accused of atrocities

BRITISH companies supplied arms worth pounds 260m over five years to the Indonesian government, which is accused of human rights atrocities, despite assurances by ministers that defence exports to the regime had been small and that the weapons were not used for internal repression.

Between 1987 and 1991, Indonesia was the sixth-largest recipient of UK weapons systems, after Saudi Arabia, India, Chile, Oman and the United States, according to research by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

In November 1991, Lord Cavendish of Furness told the House of Lords: 'Exports of defence equipment to Indonesia are currently extremely modest, amounting to less than pounds 3.5m in the current year . . . We do not allow the export of arms and equipment likely to be used against civilian populations.'

In June 1993, British Aerospace was awarded a pounds 500m contract for the sale of 24 Hawk fighter-trainers. Last November, the Indonesian government announced the intention to buy another 16 jets.

In Jakarta in May 1993, Malcolm Rifkind, the Secretary of State for Defence, said in response to journalists' questions on human rights that the British Government was 'anxious to ensure that we do not provide weapons to be used for internal repression'.

But the previous month, Air Marshal Sibun of Indonesia was reported by the Antara news agency in Jakarta to have said: 'The planes will be used not only to train pilots, but also for air-to-ground attacks in cases of emergency. In fact the Hawks were made especially for air-to-ground assaults.'

Last night a Central Television documentary, Death of a Nation: the Timor Conspiracy, by the investigative journalists John Pilger and David Munro, claimed that BAe Hawks were being used to bomb civilians in occupied East Timor. Human rights campaigners claim that since Indonesia illegally occupied East Timor in 1975, 200,000 people have been killed.

Yesterday a campaign was launched at the House of Commons by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade to persuade the Prime Minister to ban the proposed sale of the 40 BAe jets.

Will McMahon, of the campaign, said: 'Indonesia has illegally occupied East Timor for 18 years and 200,000 people have been killed. The occupation is not recognised by the UN or by Britain. It is therefore a disgrace that we are still prepared to sell military equipment to Indonesia.'