Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Tuesday, September 14, 1999 Published at 08:35 GMT 09:35 UK

UK Politics

Robertson defends Indonesia arms sales

The British arms industry earns billions of pounds from exports

The UK Defence Secretary George Robertson has insisted there is no "direct connection" between the violence in East Timor and British arms sales to Indonesia.

East Timor
Lord Robertson, the Nato Secretary General-designate, told the BBC it was inappropriate to "draw a direct connection between British arms sales, even in the past, with what is going on, on the ground in Dili and the other towns in East Timor".

Lord Robertson interviewed on the BBC's Today programme
The defence secretary was speaking as protesters against Indonesian involvement in the East Timor massacres are preparing to demonstrate outside the UK's biggest arms exhibition, which opens in Surrey on Tuesday.

Lord Robertson remarks came as he responded to questions about whether the British soldiers bound for Australia where they will link up with other elements of the UN peacekeeping force for East Timor would be likely to face fire from arms sold to Indonesia by British companies.

[ image: Lord Robertson: British forces are on the way to the region]
Lord Robertson: British forces are on the way to the region
He added that the violence was being committed mainly by militias with small arms and machetes.

The defence secretary said there had been a "dramatic reduction" in the amount of arms being sold to the Indonesian government since Labour came to power.

He also said the UK did not sell arms that it thought would be used for internal repression and added that the armaments produced by the UK were not "openly on sale to anyone who wants it".

Turning to the role of the UN force for East Timor, Lord Robertson said it was more likely to be peacekeeping rather than peacemaking.

Arms protest

Campaigners against the arms trade are expected to be joined outside the exhibition hall in Chertsey by East Timorese exiles protesting at links between the UK arms industry and the Indonesian military.

[ image:  ]
Anti-arms trade campaigners say the massacres and abuses in East Timor show what happens when you sell weapons to countries with poor human rights records.

The arms fair, Defence Systems and Equipment International, includes displays from more than 700 defence firms from the UK and abroad.

The Indonesian Government declined an invitation to attend the arms fair last week and the UK recently suspended weapons sales to Indonesia.

The move followed intense pressure on the UK Government to withdraw its invitation to the Indonesians because of the repression by militias in East Timor.

'Ethics breached'

Defence Procurement Minister Lady Symons has previously insisted Indonesia should be allowed to attend the arms fair despite the violence in East Timor to look at "self-defence" equipment on sale.

Human rights organisations have consistently attacked the UK's sale of arms to Indonesia, claiming it breaches Labour's pledge to pursue an ethical foreign policy.

Britain has supplied more than 40 Hawk trainer jets to Indonesia since the early 1980s and Jakarta is still awaiting delivery of the majority of an order for 16 of the planes under a deal struck in 1996.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

UK Politics Contents

A-Z of Parliament
Talking Politics
Vote 2001

Relevant Stories

13 Sep 99 | Europe
EU stops arms for Indonesia

13 Sep 99 | UK Politics
Gurkhas wait for Timor orders

13 Sep 99 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Who will make up the force?

08 Sep 99 | Asia-Pacific
Intervene now - News Online readers

07 Sep 99 | Asia-Pacific
Indonesia's military - who is in control?

Internet Links

East Timor Action Network

Government of Indonesia


Amnesty International

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Livingstone hits back

Catholic monarchy ban 'to continue'

Hamilton 'would sell mother'

Straw on trial over jury reform

Blairs' surprise over baby

Conceived by a spin doctor?

Baby cynics question timing

Blair in new attack on Livingstone

Week in Westminster

Chris Smith answers your questions

Reid quits PR job

Children take over the Assembly

Two sword lengths

Industry misses new trains target