Subject: UK sees no extension to Indonesia arms embargo

UK sees no extension to Indonesia arms embargo

By Dominic Evans

LONDON, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Britain said on Thursday a four-month European arms embargo imposed on Indonesia at the height of last year's bloodshed in East Timor was unlikely to be renewed when it lapses next week.

Foreign Office Minister John Battle, due to visit Indonesia on Sunday, said existing arms export licences which were put on hold in September could be resumed on January 17 when the EU embargo runs out.

``There was an EU embargo imposed for four months at the height of the East Timor crisis. It had a set time frame on it,'' Battle told reporters.

``That embargo is due to lapse on January 17th...It would require unanimity to extend it further. I don't think there is a willingness to extend it,'' Battle added.

Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid is also expected to visit Britain next month as part of a European tour.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's government, which promised to add an ethical dimension to foreign policy when it came to power in 1997, has struggled to balance demands of a lucrative arms export industry with calls for curbs from human rights groups.

It faced fierce criticism last year over its sales of Hawk jets to Indonesia, at least one of which was reported to have flown over East Timor during last year's outbreak of violence by pro-Indonesian militias.

The sales, agreed under a contract signed by the previous Conservative government, were only suspended when the EU arms embargo came into force.

This week the government was also forced onto the defensive over a newspaper report, quoting government papers, which said Foreign Secretary Robin Cook had clashed with trade and defence ministers over resumption of arms exports to Pakistan after last October's military coup.

Cook has insisted no licences for arms exports have been issued to countries that might use the weapons for internal repression or external aggression.


Battle, who will also go to East Timor during his five-day visit, said Indonesia remained ``on notice, without a doubt'' on the question of arms exports.

But he said despite religious clashes in the sprawling country's eastern spice islands, in which more than 1,500 people have died in the last year, Indonesia had made great strides in recent months.

``If we'd looked back at Indonesia a year ago, the situation has been transformed,'' Battle said.

``It has moved on better than the expectations of the international community,'' he added, citing the election of Wahid, the separation of army and police powers, the appointment of a civilian defence minister, a minister for human rights, movement out of economic crisis, and relinquishing Indonesia's claim on East Timor.

``We need to be underpinning, not undermining Indonesia. We want to develop relations with President Wahid's government that addresses human rights, and promotes trade and commerce.''

Battle said he had been encouraged by Wahid's ``non-sectarian'' response to the violence in the spice islands, but said Britain was keeping a cautious outlook.

``We need to be realistic and not look through rose tinted glasses,'' he said. ``There are pitfalls ahead in a new emerging democracy.''

---- 13 Jan 00 13:27 EU Presidency: Lisbon Backs Lifting of Indonesian Arms Embargo

Brussels, Jan. 13 (Lusa) - As a gesture of "good will" towards Jakarta, the European Union's Portuguese presidency plans to propose the lifting of the EU arms embargo on Indonesia. A Portuguese diplomat in Brussels told Lusa Wednesday that the initiative would likely be formally approved in the first general affairs council to be chaired by Lisbon's foreign minister, Jaime Gama, Jan. 24-25 in the Belgian capital. The embargo was imposed in September, after pro-Indonesian militias launched a scorched-earth campaign in East Timor, following the territory's self-determination ballot for independence. -Lusa-

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