Indonesia arms deal is test case for policy

The Government's new ethical foreign policy, including strict controls on arms sales to repressive regimes, will shortly face its first critical test case - Indonesia. A new report published today calls for a major change in British policy on arms exports to that country. Licence applications for the export of more Hawk jets and armoured personnel carriers to Indonesia are due in the next few weeks.

The report, published by the Saferworld foundation, proposes two new guidelines. Licences should not be granted for any equipment that might be used for internal repression and there should be a "presumption to deny" exports to countries of "concern" such as Indonesia, unless a legitimate defence requirement can clearly be demonstrated. Instead of the Department of Trade and Industry having to prove that a country had used equipment against its own people in order to get a licence stopped, the onus would be on the country concerned to prove it really needed the arms for defence against an external aggressor.

In Indonesia's case, the report says all licences for the export of armoured personnel carriers, riot-control equipment and small arms - items which can be used in an "internal security" role - should be refused. And it recommends that the British government holds a fresh inquiry into reports that British Aerospace Hawk aircraft have been used against rebels in East Timor. British Aerospace sources have told The Independent that they have not been used in this way, and do not have the range to reach East Timor from their current bases in Sumatra and Java.

In that case, said Andy McLean, a Saferworld spokes-man, neither the British nor Indonesian governments need have anything to fear from an open inquiry.

The Indonesian Air Force has so far taken delivery of 40 BAe Hawks - jet trainers which can also be used as attack aircraft. In 1996 a further 16 Hawk 200 aircraft were ordered, but no licence appears to have been issued so far.

The Labour Party is keen to encourage the British aircraft industry, and Lord Hollick, a Labour peer and BAe board member, is influential in the party. But even if the export licence for Hawks is approved, the second element of the test case - Alvis armoured vehicles - is less likely to be approved. Indonesia has already taken delivery of 30 Scorpion-90 light tanks and 20 Stormer armoured personnel carriers, and a licence for a further 50 armoured vehicles was granted in December last year. The third stage of the order - for 22 or 23 vehicles - is expected shortly.

Given Indonesia's geographical position, vehicles of this type are most useful for small-scale fighting against insurgents. British armoured vehicles supplied in the Sixties were used against protesters in April 1996. The British government has received assurances that British-supplied defence equipment will not be used for internal repression in East Timor or Indonesia, and, in the case of the Scorpion 90s, has been given an additional assurance that they would not be used in East Timor. But there were reports that they were deployed for security in Jakarta during last year's general election.

8 British Arms Export Policy and Indonesia, Malcolm Chalmers; Saferworld, London; pounds 8.00.

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