Indonesians paying £20 million for weapons used in repression

By agency reporter
November 30, 2012

By tomorrow (1 December), the Indonesian people are due to pay the UK government £27 million. Of this, £20 million is for arms sales to past dictator General Suharto.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the UK government's UK Export Finance backed loans to Suharto's regime to buy British exports, including weapons such as Hawk aircraft and Scorpion tanks. £400 million is still 'owed' to the UK government on these loans, and the next instalment is due to be paid.

At the start of November, the UK government revealed that three-quarters of Indonesia's debt comes from loans for arms. Some of the weapons sold are known to have been used in internal repression. For example, the UK Foreign Office has admitted that in April 1996 British Scorpion tanks were used against students in South Sulawesi. Three people were killed and many injured.

In 2010 the Liberal Democrats adopted a policy to "conduct our own audit of all existing UK government and commercial debts, ruling invalid any past lending that was recklessly given to dictators known not to be committed to spend the loans on development."

Tim Jones, Policy Officer at Jubilee Debt Campaign, said: "The Indonesian people should not be paying odious debts which come from horrendous past loans by the British government for arms sales. The debt should be audited and cancelled, and the UK government must stop backing loans for arms sales."

The value of approved arms export licences has risen dramatically under the Coalition government. In the two years July 2010 to June 2012, the UK licensed almost £69 million worth of weapons for sale to Indonesia, with over £56 million of the total classified as "aircraft, helicopters, drones".

David Cameron's identification of Indonesia as a priority market for arms sales is a serious cause for concern as alleged perpetrators of gross human rights abuses are among the leading contenders for the Indonesian Presidential elections in 2014. British Tactica water cannon were used against protestors in Jakarta as recently as March this year and there is a real risk that ongoing exports may be used for internal repression by an unscrupulous future President.

Kaye Stearman from Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) said: "It is shocking that the UK continues to promote and sell arms to Indonesia. In May this year, the UK licensed £130,000 worth of small arms and in June a further £103,000. How can this be acceptable in the light of the repression of protesters and the current military crackdown in West Papua?"

Paul Barber, Coordinator of TAPOL, which campaigns for human rights, peace and democracy in Indonesia, said: "The Indonesian people are still paying in more ways than one for the repression inflicted on them in the past. The debts should be written off and the money used instead for a reparations programme for the victims. There should be an immediate ban on the sale of any equipment that may be used for internal repression."

The Indonesian government's total foreign owed debt is $92 billion. It currently pays $9 billion a year in debt payments, around seven per cent of government revenue. The World Bank estimates that almost half the Indonesian population, 112 million people, live on less than £1.25 a day.


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