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Sunday, September 19, 1999 Published at 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK

UK Politics

Ministers 'powerless' to stop jets to Indonesia

Campaigners have long opposed the sale of Hawk jets to Indonesia

The UK Government has been unable to prevent three hawk jets being delivered to Indonesia, despite last week's arms embargo prompted by the outbreak of violence in East Timor.

East Timor
Defence Minister John Spellar said that the jets had already been legally sold to Indonesia. Nothing could be done to stop their delivery, he said.

The aircraft, built by British Aerospace are currently in Thailand en route to Indonesia, where reports said they had to land after one pilot became ill during their journey from the UK.

The news comes as the Australian Prime Minister John Howard confirmed that international peacekeepers charged with ending the violence in East Timor will enter the territory on Monday.

[ image: Robin Cook: Has admitted that Hawk jets have been used in East Timor]
Robin Cook: Has admitted that Hawk jets have been used in East Timor
Mr Spellar told Sky News: "Delivery was taken by the Indonesians before the embargo, indeed before the current crisis.

"They are actually in the ownership of the Indonesians but obviously in the spirit of the embargo we would prefer that they did not go to Indonesia."

Although the sale of Hawk jets to the Indonesians has been opposed by human rights campaigners for years, as well as by many Labour MPs, the government put an embargo in place only last weekend, following the US decision to block arms sales to Jakarta.

Under the embargo all new sales of the planes have been suspended.

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook admitted earlier this month that Hawk jets had been used over East Timor, but ministers insisted the planes have taken no direct part in the recent atrocities.

Shadow defence secretary Iain Duncan Smith was angry at the sale, and said: "This shows the government is driven by hypocrisy at its core. It says one thing and does another."

Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs and defence spokesman, was also critical. He said there was no "no legal or moral obligation for Britain to continue to fulfil the contract".

'Dismay the public'

"John Spellar's determination to deliver Hawk aircraft to the Indonesian government will dismay the British public and distress his own backbenchers," he said.

"The Indonesians have broken the conditions upon which these aircraft were to be supplied."

The Campaign against the Arms Trade also added its condemnation.

"We are presented with a situation for which the UK Government is entirely responsible," a spokeswoman said.

"It leaves itself open to accusations of complicity in the genocide in East Timor, both by arming the Indonesian generals and its refusal to revoke the licences for the Hawks."

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