London – Britain will soon approve a range of defence equipment contracts with Indonesia on the understanding they will be used to protect the country's oil and gas industry, a press report said here Saturday.
The Financial Times said the equipment was mainly intended for use in the giant Natuna gasfield, which falls in an area of the South China sea disputed by China but which continues to attract huge Western and Asian investment.
It said the move was expected to involve the approval in the coming weeks of dozens of export licences for military equipment, including air defence systems and artillery.
This was in addition to the controversial sale of 16 Hawk fighters and Scorpion tanks which Britain recently decided not to block.
British officials told the FT they believed it would be possible to defend further sales to Indonesia despite continuing allegations from human rights groups that British defence equipment has been used by the Jakarta regime to suppress political opposition.
Sales of military hardware dominate Britain's exports to Indonesia, totalling 700 million dollars in 1996, or more than half the overall figure of 1.342 billion dollars.
Britain is the second largest investor in the country, behind Japan, although projections for 1997 indicate it will slip to third place behind Taiwan.
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, currently on a tour of South East Asia, on Friday announced measures of practical support for human rights in Indonesia and for efforts to seek a settlement in the troubled territory of East Timor.
Cook also told a press conference in Jakarta that London's new criteria for its arms sales, linked to human rights criteria, will be "applied even-handedly to all countries and are not targeted on any one country".
The Foreign Secretary came from Malaysia on Thursday and was due to travel on to Manila and Singapore.