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Britain puts aid pressure on Jakarta regime

Britain will today fail to renew an annual pledge of aid to Indonesia, in a move which will please human rights activists and Labour backbenchers, but which risks creating further tension with the the government in Jakarta.

The occasion is the annual meeting in Tokyo of the Consultative Group on Indonesia (CGI), a convocation of governments and international organisations which meets under the auspices of the World Bank to co-ordinate aid policy to Jakarta. In the past, Britain has joined other donors in using the occasion to announce the amount of aid which it intends to give to Indonesia in the following year. But today, British officials will make no such pledge, to the surprise of some other foreign diplomats.

Under the direction of Clare Short, the Minister for International Development, British policy is undergoing a comprehensive review aimed at ensuring that aid goes directly to the poorest.

At the same time, Indonesian dissidents and activists, together with British backbench MPs, are pressing for a suspension of aid to Jakarta on account of its poor human rights record.

In 1995 Britain pledged pounds 96.6m at the CGI and last year the figure was pounds 13m. Officials play down the significance of the annual variations, pointing out that long-term aid contracts made by the Conservative government will be fully honoured by Labour until they expire. But it seems clear that the large-scale projects supported by the Tories, including power stations and a controversial police training programme, are things of the past.

In a written answer to a parliamentary question on Tuesday, Ms Short said: "Our existing support for sustainable forestry in Indonesia is likely to continue, with increased emphasis on benefits to poor people living in forest areas. We shall be looking for opportunities to support local non-governmental organisations in East Timor and if possible projects supporting trade unions in Indonesia."

Indonesia reacts very sensitively to anything it perceives as interference in its internal affairs, and one diplomat predicted that Britain's failure to make a pledge would be taken badly by Jakarta. At the end of last month, the Indonesian foreign minister, Ali Alatas, threatened to stop buying arms from Britain if the Government attached conditions concerning human rights.