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Britain holds inquiry into Indonesian water cannon

The Guardian - February 13, 1997

David Hencke – The Foreign Office is investigating allegations that the Indonesian government has broken its undertaking not to use British-made water cannon and armoured vehicles to crush peaceful dissent. The Foreign Office minister Jeremy Hanley ordered the inquiry after receiving pictures showing water cannon manufactured by a company in Southampton being used to break up a student gathering in Bandung.

The pictures sent by Indonesians through Tapol, the Indonesian Human Rights Campaign are potentially damaging to his reputation. He has defended decisions to equip the Indonesian police force and arm the military, still condemned by Britain for invading East Timor.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee is also investigating whether the overseas aid programme to Indonesia has been linked to arms deals. On October 30 Mr Hanley promised the Labour foreign affairs spokesman Derek Fatchett in Parliament: "If water cannon is used to try to stop peaceful demonstrators, that is of course totally unacceptable; if it is used to stop rioters, that may be acceptable. It is totally unacceptable to use chemicals or dyes with the water cannon."

The allegations passed to the minister say that chemicals were mixed with the water used to spray students gathered to commemorate a Muslim student killed in a previous demonstration

Mr Hanley disclosed that he was investigating the incident in a parliamentary answer to Labour MP Ann Clywd, who is seeking to end the arms trade with Indonesia.

"Our policy is not to license for export any UK defence equipment which we judge likely to be used for internal repression, " Mr Hanley told Ms Clywd.