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Call to end arms sales to regime

Export licences of arms to Indonesia should be revoked before a government review is completed, Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat spokes- man on foreign affairs, demanded last night.

Speaking after a report in The Independent highlighting the sale of armoured vehicles and water cannons in spite of the Government's ethical foreign policy, Mr Campbell called for an immediate ban on the sales.

He said there was nothing a review would tell us about Indonesia's suppression of democratic dissent and repression of East Timor that was not known already.

"There can't be a stronger case for a change in Britain's policy than the example of Indonesia. Knowing what we know, it is inconceivable that we should continue to supply arms to a regime of such brutality," Mr Campbell said.

Earlier, Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, said he was "surprised" that water cannons were exported from Britain and would be asking "searching questions" in the review, which he announced on Thursday.

Revoking the export licences could open the Government to compensation claims by British exporters. But the Foreign Secretary gave a clear signal that he could still act against the exports if they were judged to contravene the policy he had introduced for taking ethics into account in diplomacy.

"That report in The Independent is unfounded," said Mr Cook. "We have made no decisions to revoke or not to revoke any arms sales."

But he added: "I was personally surprised that we export water cannons we don't use in Britain. I will be asking some searching questions about that."

Downing Street refused to rule out the possibility of compensation if the Government took tough action to enforce the export ban. The Independent reported that export licences had been granted for seven armoured water cannons and 17 armoured vehicles. Water cannons and British-made armoured personnel carriers were used in Jakarta this week to break up a march, as tensions mounted in the run-up to Indonesia's general election.

The most difficult issue facing the Cook review will be continuing orders for the Hawk trainer jet, which campaigners allege were converted and used to carry out attacks on people of East Timor. There is an outstanding order for 16 new Hawk fighter jets, worth pounds 300m, by British Aerospace, on which many jobs will depend.