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British water cannons used on marchers

British Tactica armoured personnel carriers and water cannons were used to break up an election march in Jakarta this week, in an incident which will draw renewed attention to the export of British defence equipment to the regime of President Suharto.

At least one person was shot dead during the street battle on Tuesday between Indonesian police and youths demonstrating in support of the United Development Party (PPP) in advance of next week's general elections. Tacticas, manufactured by the British firm GKN, were also used in Jakarta last summer in even bigger pro-democracy riots, but this is the first time they have been photographed in action against Indonesian civilians.

British arms exports to Indonesia include Scorpion tanks, Hawk fighter jets, and frigates, as well as armoured cars and armoured personnel carriers (APCs). Successive British governments have faced allegations that they have been used in human rights violations, particularly in East Timor where there have been persistent but unconfirmed reports that Hawks have been used against independence fighters.

The Indonesian government has given formal assurances that British equipment will not be used to suppress human rights, but these guarantees do not apply to Tacticas, which are designed for crowd control and not considered "defence equipment". After huge riots last July in support of the ousted democracy leader Megawati Sukarnoputri, however, the Indonesian Ambassador to London was summoned to the Foreign Office and warned that "inappropriate" use of APCs to suppress rights of peaceful assembly and expression would be frowned upon.

Tuesday's confrontation, between 1,000 armed police and some 10,000 supporters of the PPP, was far from peaceful - but in a pseudo-democracy like Indonesia, where dissidence is stamped out, and where President Suharto's ruling party has already announced the exact proportion of the vote it expects to poll (70.2 per cent), crude mob violence has become increasingly prevalent and is one of the few means of expressing political frustration.

After similar violent clashes last weekend, the leaders of the PPP, which draws its support from Indonesia's majority Muslim population, cancelled Tuesday's planned rally. By 1pm on Tuesday, however, large numbers of its supporters had turned up in Warung Buncit Raya, a six-lane main road linking Jakarta with its southern suburbs, through an area inhabited by many PPP supporters.

The demonstrators, many of them teenagers, set fire to tyres in the street and tore down a fence, according to eyewitnesses interviewed by The Independent. The police, armed with semi-automatic rifles, fired warning shots into the air and it was at this point, according to witnesses, that the demonstrators began throwing stones.

The police ordered demonstrators to disperse and counter-attacked with tear gas. Police fired their rifles into the crowd several times and Adam Khaer-uddin, a 20-year-old bystander, was shot dead.

At about 4.30pm at least two Tacticas arrived on the scene from the north of the city. Film shot by Associated Press Television shows them spraying water cannons over the crowd, apparently in an attempt to clear the streets before the evening rush hour.

Police quoted in the Jakarta Post claimed that 21 people had been arrested, but witnesses said that more than 50 had been taken away. The election campaign has been a focus of sporadic violence nationwide: on Tuesday there were violent disturbances in several other Indonesian cities, including Bandung, Semarang and Pekalongan, all on Java.

Since the pro-democracy riots last summer, it has been clear that the biggest threat to the 31-year old government of President Suharto comes not from without, but from its own people: there can be little doubt that vehicles like the Tactica will become an increasingly crucial component of the regime's armoury. In the last 10 months, there have been church burnings by Muslim mobs in Java, and massacres of settlers by tribesmen in Kalimantan on Borneo. The official reckoning of the Indonesian Armed Forces is that over 600 people have been killed or injured in incidents connected to the election campaign, since it began on 27 April.

Last year, student riots in Ujung Pandang on Sulawesi were put down with Saracens, an armoured car which, along with Saladins and Ferret Scouts, were obtained from Britain in the 1960s. Scorpion light tanks are deployed in Java, and the Indonesian navy has a number of British frigates. British Aerospace Hawk fighters, deployed on Sumatra, Kalimantan and Java, were sold as trainers, but rumours suggest they have been used against rebels fighting Indonesia's 21-year old occupation of East Timor.


1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 Total

FRG 9 25 23 23 38 23 326 768 406 342 1983

UK 226 117 24 36 24 24 48 186 685

USA 14 14 120 177 10 6 341

NL 53 156 91 18 318

France 17 17 17 3 3 57

Spain 5 5 10 10 10 10 50

UAE 26 26

Totals 324 334 244 228 82 69 367 792 483 537 3460