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Foreign Office inquiry into use of Hawk jets by Jakarta

3 July 2002

The Foreign Office was urgently investigating reports last night that British Hawk jets had been deployed by the Indonesian airforce in Aceh, against dissidents on a group of islands north-west of Sumatra who are engaged in a brutal struggle for self-rule.

The move follows Indonesian reports that 10 Hawks were used in operations against insurgents designed, in the words of an Indonesian airforce commander named as Colonel Djubaedi, to "restore order" in Aceh. Several thousand separatists have been waging an armed struggle in the region since 1976.

Tapol, the Indonesian human rights campaign, wrote to the Foreign Office minister, Mike O'Brien, yesterday, referring to repeated pledges by the British and Indonesian governments that the Hawk jets would only be used for training and not in counter- insurgency operations or repression.

Tapol said the use of the Hawks was a "blatant violation" of the undertakings. It added that Indonesian military operations in Aceh had continued at an intense level despite peace talks.

Tapol claims thousands of civilians have been killed and serious human right abuses include rape, torture, and forced displacement. The death toll in the last 15 months alone, since the military's most recent offensive, has been well over 1,300, including many innocent civilians.

Last year, the government granted Aceh wide-ranging autonomy but the terms were imposed. The conflict originated after successive regimes in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, repeatedly refused to keep pledges to grant self-rule to the resource-rich province.

A Foreign Office spokesman said yesterday that it had instructed its embassy in Jakarta to look into the reports. They had serious implications for the pledges given to Britain in the past, said FO officials who also voiced concern about the level of violence in Aceh.

There have also been recent unsubstantiated reports that Hawks have been used elsewhere in Indonesia, particularly in Papua, the Indonesian half of New Guinea island, where many reject the territory's integration into Indonesia more than 30 years ago.

The Labour government approved the sale of 16 Hawk jets to Indonesia despite evidence that they had been used in the violent suppression of civilians in East Timor, which is now independent. Robin Cook, then foreign secretary, cleared the sale of the aircraft to Jakarta, despite widespread human rights abuses by Indonesian forces. He said the deal - agreed by the previous Conservative administration but in breach of Labour's "ethical" guidelines on arms sales - could not be blocked for legal reasons.

Tapol referred yesterday to a letter from the FO last year to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade stating that there was "no evidence" that British military aircraft or equipment "of any sort" had been used for counter-insurgency or internal repression in Indonesia, and that Jakarta had assured that "in no circumstances" would it be used against civilians.

The Hawk, which is made by BAe Systems and has been sold to 12 countries, has been embroiled in a series of controversies about British arms sales - they were flown by the Zimbabwe airforce in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo two years ago.

The government was subsequently involved in a bitter dispute over the sale of Hawk spares to Robert Mugabe's government before agreeing to suspend the exports. Two-dozen are being supplied to South Africa in a 400million pound sterling-deal surrounded by claims of corrupt payments in that country.

Richard Norton-Taylor and John Aglionby, Jakarta
Published in the Guardian © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002

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