UK invites Suharto's generals to arms bazaar

Richard Lloyd Parry
Tuesday 24 June 1997 23:02 BST

Weeks after it announced a new "ethical dimension" to foreign policy, and Robin Cook the Foreign Secretary promised to "put human rights at the heart of foreign policy", the Government has invited three senior officers of the notorious Indonesian Armed Forces (Abri) to a sales exhibition of British arms equipment.

John Spellar, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Defence, confirmed this week that General Feisal Tanjung, the Indonesian Commander in Chief, has been officially invited to the Royal Navy and British Army Equipment Exhibition at Farnborough in September. Included on the invitation are the chiefs of staff of the army and navy, General Wiranto and Admiral Kushariadi. The Indonesian embassy was unable to say yesterday whether they had decided to attend.

Apart from their physical role in suppressing internal dissent in Indonesia, Indonesia's armed forces wield huge political influence and have played a crucial part in supporting the regime of President Suharto, a former general who has held power for more than 30 years. They have been accused of human rights abuses that include torture and murder, especially in the occupied territory of East Timor. Under the Conservative government, the Indonesian armed forces were enthusiastic purchasers of British arms, from water cannons and armoured cars, to tanks and Hawk fighter jets.

Since the election, there has been speculation that new Labour would take a tougher stand on Indonesia, particularly after a speech last month by Mr Cook, which promised to "put human rights at the heart of our foreign policy".

Yesterday, the Labour MP Ann Clwyd, whose parliamentary question revealed the invitation, said she would be raising the matter in Parliament. "It does seem to show a certain inconsistency," she said. "As I understand it, the arms trade with Indonesia is under review, but if you invite someone to an arms exhibition, clearly you hope to sell them arms. These people will not be coming just for a cup of tea."

General Tanjung's wish to visit London was revealed by The Independent on Monday, but a Foreign Office spokesman denied all knowledge of it.

The Government suffered a similar embarrassment earlier this month when visas were issued to three senior Iraqi officials, including the country's oil minister, to visit London on official business. After behind the scenes objections from within his party, the visas were withdrawn at the last minute by the Foreign Office junior minister, Derek Fatchett.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in