Prime Minister David Cameron has outraged human rights supporters by saying that he is happy to sell arms to Indonesia. He made the remarks to an Indonesian newspaper, as he defended the presence of arms dealers in his delegation to several Asian countries.
Cameron's schedule includes Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Burma. His entourage contains executives from six arms companies, including BAE Systems and Agusta Westland.
Cameron has acknowledged that the purpose of his Indonesia visit is primarily trade, including arms.
In an interview with Kompas, a leading Indonesian newspaper, he stated: "Britain makes some of the best defence equipment in the world and it is right that it is available to Indonesia, under the very same criteria that we apply to all of our partners around the world. That is why some of our leading defence companies are with me on this visit."
Kaye Stearman of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) described the Prime Minister's trip as “a sick joke”.
She spoke of “Indonesia's use of Hawk jets to bomb civilians in East Timor and its continuing human rights abuses in West Papua and elsewhere”.
Indonesia already buys a considerable amounts of arms from the UK. Critics say that the Indonesian government could better spend their valuable resources on support for their people's welfare.
UK arms sales to Indonesia have long been a source of controversy. During the 1980s and 1990s when Indonesia was under the Suharto dictatorship, the UK sold Hawk fights jets, manufactured by BAE Systems, to the Indonesian air force.
The purchases were underwritten by the UK government's Export Credits Guarantee Department – now renamed as UK Export Finance - which transferred the risks of non-payment from BAE Systems to the British taxpayer. Indonesia is still paying off the debts from past arms purchases.
The UK finally banned the export of Hawk jets to Indonesia in 1999 after a long-running campaign by CAAT and other groups. But arms exports to Indonesia continued at a lower level in the new century.