BAe denies jets used in terror campaign

British Aerospace, which builds the outstandingly successful Hawk jet trainer, yesterday said it was sure the aircraft had not been used against rebels in East Timor.

The company also denied allegations by the leader of the East Timorese resistance, reported in yesterday's Independent, that BAe Hawks had been used against rebels in 1978 and 1979, saying the first of the 20 Hawks bought by Indonesia were not delivered until 1980.

BAe refused to go beyond the official British government line, based on intelligence sources, that there is no evidence for the Hawks having been used against the rebels.

However, BAe said it provided a "full customer support service. We know the number of hours aircraft have been flown. If an aircraft made a heavy landing, we'd need someone there to make an assessment whether it could fly the next day". It would therefore know if they had been used against the rebels. "That is how we know these aircraft are used for pilot training," a spokesman said yesterday.

The Hawks are based in Sumatra, nearly 2,000 miles from East Timor. They can attack targets 500 miles away, with extra fuel tanks, and the Indonesians cannot refuel them in the air.

BAe yesterday said the inquiries to establish whether military equipment could be sold to a prospective purchaser were the responsibility of government, and the Defence Export Services Organisation.

The company spokesman said: "It is only the Government who have the resources available to conduct the necessary extensive political and other inquiries. The matter of human rights forms a very important part of this process.

"The British Government has stated they have found absolutely no evidence from any source to support reports that Hawk aircraft have been used against the civilian population of East Timor. They have also stated they do not allow the export of arms or equipment likely to be used for internal repression."

The reports the Hawks had been used against East Timor rebels may derive from the use of old US A-4 Skyhawks, of which Indonesia has 24, which look similar to the British-made warplanes.

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