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Resumed arms sales to Indonesia - creating the next 'East Timor'
20 January 2000
Further to our messages on Tuesday about the European Union decision to lift their embargo on arms sales to Indonesia, you may have noticed a truly startling silence in the NZ mass media and from the government on that decision.
We have therefore this morning faxed Kim Hill (Radio NZ morning programme presenter) following her interview of the NZ ambassador to Indonesia (during which the increasing level of violence was discussed, but no mention was made of the EU decision). If you are as concerned about the decision as we are, then please make your views known !
This alert has three parts :
1) text based on our fax to Kim Hill, 20 January 2000;
2) details for contacting NZ government / national media;
3) the Guardian article (19 Janaury 2000) 'UK minister defends arms sales to Indonesia' which provides more info on the situation.
Thanks to Marion Hancock (Peace Foundation) and Joe Buchanan (East Timor Action) for assistance with this alert.
This bit is based on the text of our fax to Kim Hill this morning :
We have just been listening with considerable interest to your interview with the NZ Ambassador to Indonesia on the deteriorating situation in parts of Indonesia, and enjoyed your questions very much.
However, we do feel an important and deeply troubling aspect of the situation escaped attention. Your listeners would no doubt have been very interested in your asking for his viewpoint on the decision of the European Union to resume arms sales to Indonesia. The decision was made Tuesday evening (our time), and there has not to our knowledge been any mention made of it on Radio NZ or TVNZ.
There has not as yet been any statement about the EU decision from the NZ government. Given Helen Clark’s valid criticism yesterday of the Japanese government for their whaling practices, we had anticipated an equally strong response from her to the EU governments. Their decision will result in an increase in the weapons available to an all-ready over armed military which has a proven record of murdering civilians in large numbers - somewhat akin to pouring petrol on a fire, one would’ve thought. As well, it may increase the risk to the safety of NZ soldiers on duty in East Timor.
Only five months ago, those members of parliament then in opposition, now in government, and the journalists reporting on Radio NZ and TVNZ were expressing horror and dismay as the situation in East Timor deteriorated into total chaos and carnage.
Yet this week those very same people remain silent as the foundations are laid for the next ‘East Timor’ - in West Papua, Aceh, Lombok ...
Please don’t let this silence continue.
Contact details :
a) Government -
* Letters - all letters should be addressed to the relevant person and posted (no stamp needed) to Parliament Buildings, Wellington.
* Phone calls and faxes (all to be prefixed by 04 by those of you out of Wellington) -
~ Helen Clark, Prime Minister, office - tel 471 9998, fax 473 3579;
* ideally you should send a copy of your correspondence to Matt Robson, Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, fax 495 8462; to the Green Party Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, Keith Locke, Green's office, fax 472 6003; and a copy of your correspondence and of any replies to PMA for our files.
b) You could also write to the national / nationally distributed media :
The Guardian [UK]
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."