Subject: EU drops arms embargo on Indonesia

also: Groups protest renewal of EU arms sales to Indonesia

EU drops arms embargo on Indonesia

BRUSSELS, Jan 17 (Reuters) - The European Union said it would not renew an arms embargo against Indonesia which expired on Monday, but voiced concern about the violence sweeping the archipelago nation.

The 15-nation EU adopted a four-month embargo on arms sales to Indonesia last September to put pressure on Jakarta to respect East Timor's vote for independence at a time when that territory was torn by violence. The EU said then it would review the embargo when it expired on January 17.

In a statement issued by current EU president Portugal, the bloc said it believed the embargo imposed on the previous Indonesian government ``need not be renewed.''

But it said it would strictly implement the EU code of conduct on arms exports, adopted in 1998.

The code of conduct sets eight criteria which countries must take account of when deciding whether to approve arms exports. It includes refusal to issue an export licence if there is a ``clear risk'' the equipment will be used for internal repression.

In Monday's statement, the EU noted the ``historic changes'' of the last few months in Indonesia, which held its first contested presidential elections last October.

But the EU said it was deeply concerned at the ``appalling violence'' in the Moluccas, the tensions in Irian Jaya and the persisting conflict in Aceh. It also underlined the need to ensure accountability for past human rights abuses and meet international concern about refugees remaining in West Timor.

The EU's decision to allow the arms embargo to lapse could prove controversial.


President Abdurrahman Wahid has come under attack for failing to end religious and ethnic violence sweeping the predominantly Moslem country.

Indonesian police fired warning shots into the air as Moslem rioters went on an anti-Christian rampage on Monday in the resort island of Lombok.

At least one EU member state had spoken out in favour of keeping the ban in place.

Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Jozias van Aartsen said on Sunday he wanted to maintain the arms embargo, adding it would not be sensible to lift it at the moment.

Speaking on national radio, van Aartsen urged Dutch defence electronics firm Hollandse Signaalapparaten to abstain from supplying radar equipment to Indonesia.

British Foreign Office Minister John Battle said last week that existing arms export licences which were put on hold in September could be resumed on January 17.

EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten simply took note of the decision by member states not to extend the arms embargo.

``We all knew this arms embargo was limited in time. The particular reasons which gave rise to this arms embargo do not exist any longer,'' a spokesman told reporters.

Press release 17 January 2000


'The EU decision to be announced today to end its arms embargo against Indonesia could not have come at a worse time,' said TAPOL director Carmel Budiardjo, adding that the Indonesian armed forces, TNI, are at this very moment posing a grave threat to the country's two-month-old democratic government under President Wahid.

This weekend, Richard Holbrooke, the US ambassador to the UN said the TNI was threatening to act against the Wahid government and warned that the international community would not tolerate such a move. 'The best thing the EU could have done at such a time was to extend the embargo' insisted Rachel Harford of CAAT (Campaign Against Arms Trade).

The TNI is also strenuously opposing investigations in Indonesia and at the UN which could result in a number of Indonesian generals facing charges for crimes against humanity in East Timor. The TNI has failed to break the log-jam that allows its proxy militias in West Timor to prevent more than 100,000 East Timorese from returning home, after having been forcibly deported last September. It has failed to halt the yearlong inter-communal violence gripping Maluku, formerly known as the Spice Islands, and stands accused of taking sides in the lethal conflict which has killed thousands of people. Its forces are implicated in daily killings in Aceh, North Sumatra. By ending the embargo, the EU has manifested a failure to understand the threat still posed to Indonesia by the TNI.

TAPOL and CAAT deeply regret that the British government has failed abysmally to take the lead at the EU, having done nothing to persuade its EU partners to extend the embargo at a time when the TNI continues to pose a threat to Indonesia's fragile democracy. Once again, Robin Cook's 'ethical foreign policy' is shown to be a sham.

Carmel Budiardjo of TAPOL said:

'Pressure from the arms manufacturers, keen to resume deliveries of Hawk ground-attack aircraft and other military equipment, has clearly taken precedence over human rights and democracy. We have drawn the government's attention to the use of British armoured vehicles to support one side in the Maluku conflict. This alone should have persuaded the Labour Government to extend the embargo as a signal that such an act is intolerable. The UK Government also has the power, but regrettably not the political will to implement a UK embargo. By contrast, the Dutch government opposes the EU decision and has called on a Dutch company not to ship equipment in the pipeline.

TAPOL and CAAT will continue to campaign vigorously, along with other NGOs here, and throughout Europe, for a Europe-wide embargo on arms sales to Indonesia to be re-introduced, with individual EU states pressed to impose their own embargoes if necessary.


For more information or interviews, contact Carmel Budiardjo on 020 8771-2904, Paul Barber on 01420-80153, or Rachel Harford on 020 7281 0297.

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