Subject: Letter: Britain must stop arming Indonesia

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

The Independent [UK] May 28, 2003


By Dr Peter Carey

Sir: Your report on the Indonesian Army's onslaught on Aceh (21 May) refers to civilian casualties of the renewed conflict near the provincial capital and in North Aceh (where a massacre already appears to have occurred near Bireuen), but does not mention that Britain is deeply implicated in the present operation as a result of its arms deals with Jakarta.

During the previous government of General Suharto (1966-98), the UK became Indonesia's leading foreign armourer. Although briefly halted through an EU-wide ban (September 1999-January 2000) following Jakarta's destruction of East Timor after the territory's independence vote, arms supplies have since resumed. Reports indicate that the Indonesian army is now deploying British made light tanks and ground-attack aircraft to support its operations in the contested province - and this despite supposed assurances by Jakarta that British equipment would not be used for internal repression or for counter-insurgency operations.

Unless urgent steps are taken to reimpose a further ban on arms sales to Jakarta and insist that British equipment is withdrawn from conflict zones like Aceh, Britain could find itself an accessory to state-sponsored terrorism involving the use of army-sponsored local militias drawn from highland populations and local Javanese transmigrants as well as non-uniformed special forces.

At least, 12,000 civilians have been killed in Aceh since the Indonesian Army turned the province into a Military Operations Zone (1989-98). Given current levels of Indonesian troop deployments and the fact that the 5,000 Free Aceh Movement guerrillas live amongst the local population, many more are bound to lose their lives. One needs look no further than Northern Ireland to realise the limitations of a purely military solution to internal political conflict.

If Britain wants to help Indonesia at this critical moment in its post- Suharto transition to democracy and the rule of law, it should be sharing its experience of the Northern Ireland peace process rather than stoking the flames of conflict by continued arms supplies.


Laithwaite Fellow and Tutor in Modern History Trinity College, Oxford

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