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Thursday, September 16, 1999 Published at 08:38 GMT 09:38 UK

UK Politics

East Timor fears over UK arms

Indonesian troops and militia men on the streets of East Timor

Lobby groups are raising concerns that weapons exported from the UK to Indonesia are being used by militias conducting massacres in East Timor.

The BBC's John Kampfner: "MP's say they will be combing through the details of arms sales"
In the past 18 months, 51 separate arms export licences have been granted to Indonesia by the UK Government.

Ministers were expected to announce the contents of the shipments in July but are yet to do so. It is thought that they are likely to have contained small arms and aircraft parts.

A spokesman for the pressure group Saferworld, Ian Davies, told the BBC: "We have real concerns that licences for small arms and light weapons - such as rifles, pistols and machine guns - may have been licensed to Indonesia.

East Timor
"These are the types of weapons that are most likely to have been used in the atrocities in East Timor."

The row comes as British troops have arrived in Australia where they are joining up with other elements of the Australian-led UN peacekeeping force bound for East Timor.

Public debate necessary

The Liberal Democrats have also attacked government policy on arms exports saying the decision-making process on whether to export weapons to individual countries needs to be opened up to public debate.

At present the party says different government departments keep the decisions away from the public eye.

It says this provides little opportunity for concerns to be raised over individual shipments which may break European guidelines on exporting arms to countries which may use them for internal repression.

Lord Avebury is calling for more openess in arms exports
Lib Dem peer Lord Avebury, who is the chairman of the East Timor campaign group, said that if more information was available to the public and non-governmental bodies people would be able to see whether shipments should go ahead.

He also called for ministers to have smaller role in the decision making process saying independent bodies should rule on whether individual cases fell within the guidelines.

"If we had this information we could see without internal [government] arguments if they fell within the Europe Union guidelines which say we won't export weapons to countries that may use them or internal repression."

Ethical policy in 'tatters'

Conservative leader William Hague on Wednesday said: "The so-called ethical foreign policy Robin Cook talked about is in complete tatters now it turns out Stephen Byers sanctioned arms exports to Indonesia."

But Mr Byers, the trade secretary has rejected Mr Hague's claims and defended the government against allegations of hypocrisy after it emerged his department had been helping to fund sales of warplanes to Indonesia.

[ image: An RAF Hawk jet like those sold to Indonesia]
An RAF Hawk jet like those sold to Indonesia
MPs expressed outrage when it was revealed on Wednesday that £130m of taxpayers' money had been used over the past year to assist the Indonesian Government to continue with the purchase of British-built Hawk jets.

The money provided by the Department of Trade and Industry was used to reschedule loans to allow the Indonesians to buy Hawk jets from British Aerospace and also gave financial help to UK firms working for the regime in Jakarta.

Mr Byers has also defended his approval of a loan to help a UK company working on a vast public works contract in Indonesia.

Mr Byers said he had been simply honouring credit agreements set up by the previous Conservative administration.

Asked whether the government's ethical foreign policy was still intact, he said: "It is an ethical foreign policy which means that we changed the criteria by which we judge these matters.

"That has enabled me to reject applications for credit for arms."

The UK has suspended all arms sales to Indonesia as a result of the violence in East Timor.

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