Peter Montagnon, Hong Kong – Britain would lose its lucrative arms trade with Indonesia if the Labour Government insists on a broad link between human rights and equipment sales, Mr Ali Alatas, Indonesia's foreign minister, warned yesterday.
'If arms sales are linked by any country to what we believe are extraneous issues, then we will simply find other suppliers,' he said. 'It's not for nothing that they call it an arms bazaar.'
Mr Alatas said he had discussed Britain's present review of its defence sales policy with Mr Robin Cook, foreign secretary, at the Hong Kong handover ceremonies. He said Mr Cook had assured him the review was not specifically directed at Indonesia and that existing contracts would be met.
Separately, Mr Cook confirmed that the policy on defence sales was under review. 'We are currently reviewing our criteria for arms sales on an overall basis,' he said. 'It may well turn out to have implications for a number of countries, of which Indonesia may be one.
'That does not mean we do not wish to have a perfectly proper commercial relationship with Indonesia, which is not just in the interest of Britain but also in the interest of Indonesia.'
Britain supplies Indonesia with Hawk fighter aircraft as well as other equipment including riot-control gear. Indonesia has said the equipment will not be used for repressive purposes or in East Timor.
Suspicion among human rights groups that British equppment has been used for internal repression has made the sale controversial in the UK. Mr Alatas denied that allegations, but said Indonesia could not accept any requirement that it made broader undertakings on weapons intended for external defence.
His firm line follows Indonesia's decision in May to scrap the purchase of F-16 fighter aircraft from the US, following congressional efforts to link the sale to Indonesia's human rights record.
Asked if he has been reassured by his meeting with Mr Cook, Mr Alatas said he was 'at least better informed'. He said any dispute over arms sales would not lead to British exporters being disadvantaged in civilian markets.
'Both sides know very well we have a very solid economic relationship.' Mr Alatas added: 'Britain is the second largest investor in Indonesia.'