Minister Defends Arms Sales to Indonesia
Also: Britain poised for renewal of jet sales to Jakarta
The Guardian [UK] Wednesday January 19, 2000
UK minister defends arms sales to Indonesia
John Aglionby in Jakarta
The foreign office minister John Battle yesterday defended the resumption of British arms sales to Indonesia in spite of the rapidly escalating social unrest, a divided military and warnings from other countries.
He urged the world to dispel its long-held view of Indonesia as an unstable, military-controlled state and to welcome the emerging democracy into the international fold.
Mr Battle said after two days of talks with Indonesia's President Abdurrahman Wahid and government officials in Jakarta that it was time to get rid of outdated and antiquated views on Indonesia.
"It is not commonly understood internationally that there is a new president elected, that there are new ministers, that there's a programme of reform, and my view is that the government needs to be underpinned in that programme of reform," he said.
In such circumstances, and in the light of Indonesia's withdrawal from East Timor, he said, there was no reason to reimpose the European Union arms embargo against Jakarta.
"The situation in East Timor has changed massively," he said, referring to circumstances four months ago, when the embargo was imposed. "The TNI [Indonesian military] are not in East Timor, thankfully, and the situation is different. What we're talking about now is a new government that has to cope with the legacy of what went on there."
However, he stressed that there would be "no free flow through of arms and no questions asked tomorrow", because both the EU and Britain had strict codes of conduct regarding arms exports to Indonesia.
"The international community is not going to go away," he said. "It's going to watch the situation and see how the government handles it. It's going to be a case by case basis."
Britain is one of the biggest arms suppliers to Indonesia. In 1998 Britain exported arms worth £73m to Indonesia. In order not to lose future busi ness, British diplomats and arms dealers have regularly courted Indonesian dealers and generals during the embargo period when all links were supposed to have been broken.
The Dutch foreign minister, Jozias van Aartsen, who is also in Jakarta, said that when he reports on Indonesia to the EU council of foreign ministers next Monday, "without any doubt there will be a very positive outlook".
Neither referred to the current state of the military which, after decades as the country's most powerful political force, is now deeply divided over its future role. There is speculation that some generals, particularly those threatened with prosecution over their involvement in East Timor, are plotting a coup.
It is widely accepted that barely half of the armed forces support President Abdurrahman and his reform programme.
Mr Battle met only one general in Jakarta, the mines and energy minister, Bambang Yudoyhono, who no longer has hands-on control of any troops. Mr Van Aartsen sidestepped questions about whether he trusted the military to respect the civilian government's reform programme.
However, with more than a quarter of the country affected by social unrest that the military appears unable to control, Washington is still worried about the situation and refuses to lift its arms embargo until the generals are brought completely to heel. Many other western diplomatic missions in Jakarta share their concern.
One diplomat said it was "pretty irresponsible" of Mr Battle and Mr Van Aartsen to make judgments without consulting the military high command or considering many other factors.
"The place is in a mess and what is more frightening is that we don't know how bad a mess it is," he said. "The military is even more splintered than it was a year ago, access to this cabinet is worse than to the last cabinet and ministers are running scared and keeping their heads down because they don't know what the president is going to say next." ---- The Times [London] January 17 2000
Britain poised for renewal of jet sales to Jakarta
BY MICHAEL BINYON, DIPLOMATIC EDITOR
BRITAIN may resume sales of Hawk fighter aircraft to Indonesia within days of a Foreign Office minister visiting East Timor.
John Battle will arrive in Dili on Wednesday to offer help to returning refugees and to bolster the Government of the newly independent territory as it tries to rebuild the shattered capital, where rampages by Indonesian militias last year left barely a single building standing.
His visit coincides with the expiry of the arms embargo slapped on Indonesia by the European Union at the height of the fighting last autumn. The embargo, which ends today, could be renewed only by a unanimous vote in the EU and so EU countries, including Britain, will, almost certainly, be allowed to renew lucrative arms sales.
Mr Battle had talks in Jakarta yesterday with President Wahid and his new Government, which he praised as democratic and reformist. Unblocking the sale of the Hawks is sure to be one of the top demands of Mr Wahid, who will visit Britain next month.
The ending of the embargo puts Britain in a difficult position. The Hawk sale is deeply unpopular with the Labour Left, which says that it flouts the promise by Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, to give foreign policy an ethical dimension. Critics cite the other continuing internal conflicts in Indonesia as a reason why the Government should not sell the aircraft.
Yet the Government would now have to pass special legislation to block sales of the remaining seven Hawks. This would be seen as a hostile move by the new Government in Jakarta and would undercut all efforts by Mr Battle to "underpin rather than undermine" Mr Wahid.
Mr Battle is due in West Timor on Wednesday, where he will meet refugees and those who have returned to the camps because they found conditions in East Timor too harsh. Britain has pledged £13 million to help them.
Around 128,000 refugees have gone back to the newly independent part of the island, but at least 100,000 remain in the Indonesian west. More than half of these will not return because they opposed independence, and they will seek new lives elsewhere. East Timor's population is expected to fall from 800,000 before independence to 450,000.
During his talks, Mr Battle will urge Xanana Gusmão, the East Timorese leader, and Jose Ramos Horta, the East Timor independence leader, to bury their differences with Indonesia and forge a new "fruitful" relationship with their giant neighbour. Before arriving, Mr Battle praised the appointment of a Minister for Human Rights in Indonesia and the new civilian Defence Minister.
Nevertheless, the arms sales are a sensitive issue. Of the 16 British Aerospace Hawk fighters approved by the previous Conservative Government, nine were supplied last year and the remaining seven could now be delivered.
Britain supplied more than £70 million-worth of arms to Indonesia in 1998, including 38 armoured combat vehicles, despite government guidelines which deny an export licence to any arms that could be used in internal repression. Reports from the Spice Islands, where fighting between Christians and Muslims has claimed more than 1,000 lives in the past year, say that British-made Saladin armoured cars have been used in attacks in Ambon, the provincial capital.
Mr Battle insists that Indonesia would still be closely watched and any new arms sales would have to go through strict licensing controls.
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