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East Timor Vote: Row over use of Hawks to intimidate voters

MINISTERS FACED fresh calls last night to freeze arms sales to Indonesia and withdraw the country's invitation to Britain's biggest military fair.

Senior Labour MPs joined Tories, Liberal Democrats and peace campaigners to plead for an urgent review of UK policy after British-made Hawk aircraft were twice used to intimidate separatists during the run-up to East Timor's independence referendum. Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, confirmed reports that the jets flew over East Timor during the campaign. The planes were sold to Indonesia on condition that they would not be used for internal repression.

The Government's embarrassment was heightened yesterday with news that the Indonesian regime had been invited to the Defence System Equipment International exhibition in Surrey next month.

The affair illustrates "the dangers of selling arms to dictatorial regimes like the previous regime in Indonesia," said Donald Anderson, the Labour chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

"There should be no arms sales to Indonesia until the democracy is clearly established and ... the referendum result is wholly respected by the Indonesian government," Mr Anderson told BBC Radio 4's The World At One. The Labour MP was backed by John Maples, the Conservative defence spokesman, and the Liberal Democrats' foreign affairs spokesman, Menzies Campbell.

Britain had a strong legal case for revoking the rest of Indonesia's export licence for the Hawks, Mr Campbell said. Only 50 of the 140 jets sold to Indonesia by British Aerospace under the last government have been delivered to date.

Indonesia is guilty of a "flagrant contravention of the purported conditions of sale", which specified that the plane could not be used for internal repression, he said.

However, Nana Sutresla, the Indonesian ambassador in London, insisted that the Hawks were providing "general security" over the eastern part of his country. The planes were sent there after the military received reports that there had been an "illegal over-fly by unidentified planes", he said.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean, the Defence Procurement minister, said Britain recognised Indonesia's right to defend itself, as guaranteed by the UN Charter.

Timetable of a Deal

1994: Robin Cook, then shadow Foreign Secretary, attacked Tory policy on arming Indonesia: "Hawk aircraft have been observed on bombing runs in East Timor in most years since 1984."

1996: 16 further Hawk jets licensed for export to Indonesia, with the licence valid for four years.

May 1997: Incoming Labour government announces change in foreign policy, putting "ethical considerations" at its heart.

September 1997: The AEEU, an engineering union and one of Labour's biggest financial backers, says loss of Hawk deal would destroy "trust" between the two countries.

October 1997: The Government says Hawks have not been used in a counter- insurgency role in East Timor.

April 1999: First two Hawks from 1996 deal delivered, with the rest due over the next seven months.