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British arms help Jakarta fight war against its own people oveyr 2

Sue Lloyd-Roberts, BBC Special Correspondent, exposes the trade that gives the Indonesian regime the muscle to clamp down on dissent

Sue Lloyd-Roberts
Thursday 27 March 1997 00:02 GMT

In April 1996, the students of the University of Ujung Pandang in South Sulawesi, one of 3,000 islands that make up Indonesia, demonstrated against a 67 per cent increase in transport costs. Many live 10 miles or more from the city and the increase threatened to curtail their university careers. "It was a peaceful demonstration of a practical, non-political nature", recalls Ardilo. "We could hardly believe it when the army intervened. It was like they had declared war." They drove British-made armoured personnel carriers armed with guns onto the campus, the guns were fired and three students were killed in the ensuring panic.

Forty days later, on the day of mourning dictated by Islam, students from the University of Bandung in Java commemorated the deaths of their colleagues in Ujung Pandang. This time the paramilitary police drove British- made armoured water cannon onto the campus and sprayed the students with an ammonia solution. The water cannon were part of batch of nine exported to Indonesia in 1995. Dozens of students suffered skin burns.

The students say they envy Britain's reputation for democratic values and human rights. "I do not believe that Western countries, like Britain, supply these weapons to be used against the people", says Subido, a student injured in the Bandung demonstration. "I am sure the Indonesian Government told the British they would use them only for the defence of Indonesia".

The Stop Arms to Indonesia Campaign this week failed in their bid in the High Court to force a judicial review in UK arms sales to Indonesia. Mr Justice Laws never questioned the evidence cited above. He said the case was "misconceived", because it is a political, not a legal issue, and cannot be settled in the courts. The campaigners are angry. "It means there is no means in this country to challenge a government that sends arms to repressive regimes," says Carmel Budiardjo of Tapol, the Indonesian Human Rights campaign.

The Government says it adheres strictly to the criteria laid down by the DTI on arms export controls, and that in issuing licenses, it "avoids contributing to internal repression and instability within the country of destination and avoids contributing to human rights abuses".

The arms campaigners argue that the Government position is riddled with casuistry and contradiction. On 27 July last year there was the worst rioting in Jakarta for over 20 years when Government forces stormed the party headquarters of the PDI, one of two opposition parties, led by Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of the Indonesian's first post independence president.

While police viciously beat PDI supporters, British-built water cannon sprayed the demonstrators with pink dye, so that they could later be traced and punished. The riots left at least five dead, 149 injured, and 248 were arrested.

When Labour MP Ann Clwyd challenged the Government on the use of British weapons to put down pro-democracy supporters in Indonesia, Jeremy Hanley, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs declared: "If water cannon is used to stop peaceful demonstrations, that is of course totally unacceptable." But at the end of last year, the Government announced new export licences for weapons to Indonesia, including more than 300 armoured cars and water cannon.

Indonesian police are introduced to the latest in British riot control equipment when they come to the UK for training. Hundreds of Indonesian police officers have been trained at Bramshill Police College on a programme paid for with aid money from the Overseas Development Administration.

Indonesia is apparently counting on British-made water cannon and armoured personnel carriers having a sobering effect on the electorate who go to the polls on 29 May. After a display of Indonesian military hardware, including the British imports, on the streets of Jakarta in February this year, one of the government-controlled newspapers reported that "troops, supported by scores of armoured vehicles and British-made Scorpion tanks, helicopters, motorcycles and other vehicles will assure security and order during the elections in the Greater Jakarta area."

There are to be no rallies or public meetings during these elections, in which the opposition parties are strictly controlled by the Government. With the memory of last July still vivid, neither opposition party is expected to misbehave.

Reports of heavy-handed tactics used by security forces in the rest of Indonesia are nothing compared to the treatment meted out to occupied East Timor. At the weekend, two protesters were killed, dozens were injured and 60 arrested in the capital, Dili, for attempting to air their grievances to a visiting UN delegate.

These figures are the official ones; the reality is likely to be higher. These new deaths bring to well over 200,000 the number of Timorese killed since Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 - a third of the population.

Among the East Timorese, the British Aerospace Hawk fighter plane has become a symbol of the worse excesses carried out on the island. Konis Santana, leader of the East Timorese resistance army, claims British planes were responsible for killing hundreds in bombing raids carried out against villages which supported them in the late Seventies and Eighties. Mr Santana believes that "the war in East Timor would have taken another course if the Indonesians had not received military support from abroad, including the Hawks that Great Britain offered during the crucial period after the invasion."

He says the Indonesian air force no longer uses British jet fighters for bombing missions, but for intimidation, because the "Hawks killed so many people in bombing attacks in 1978 and 1979 that today, whenever people hear the noise of the Hawks flying, they are scared and the authorities know they will not dare leave their homes."

Defeated in the High Court this week, the arms campaigners are now arguing for a change in the law.

Sue Lloyd-Roberts' report on British arms sales to Indonesia can be seen on Newsnight tonight at 10.30pm on BBC2.

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