The announcement in New York yesterday by Foreign Secretary Robin Cook that the Foreign Office has blocked the sale of military equipment to Indonesia is being taken as a sign that the Labour Government is beginning to implement its ethical policy regarding arms sales to repressive regimes. While welcoming the announcement, TAPOL considers that it does not go far enough and leaves many questions unanswered.
The announcement comes three days before the Labour Party Conference opens in Brighton, when a resolution on arms to Indonesia is expected to embarrass the Government. Many Labour Party members have been dismayed by the Government's refusal to revoke licences issued by the previous administration.
According to press and radio reports, the licences rejected involve armoured personnel carriers and sniper rifles and are believed to be worth altogether =A31 million. Since a single APC can cost anything up to a million pounds,= the licences rejected would appear to cover a very insignificant order indeed. While confirming today that three licences had been rejected, the Foreign Office refused to confirm the value on the grounds of 'commercial confidentiality'.
The Government told Parliament on 30 July that there were 59 licence applications for arms exports to Indonesia under consideration. It is not clear whether yesterday's announcement means that 56 applications are still outstanding or whether any or all of these other licences have already been granted.
Although three licences have now been blocked, armoured personnel carriers and water cannon are still being delivered to Indonesia because the Labour Government refused to revoke licences issued for this equipment by the previous administration. Furthermore, the Government has failed to clarify whether it will embargo future sales of any category of equipment, including APCs.
Carmel Budiardjo of TAPOL said: 'We are concerned that Robin Cook, when asked, refused to acknowledge on the BBC today that his announcement is a "turning point" in his foreign policy. All this leaves us in the dark about the true significance of the Government's policy on arms sales to Indonesia. The lack of clarity only highlights the need for greater transparency about the arms trade. While TAPOL would enthusiastically welcome an end to the sale of APCs to Indonesia, we feel that a complete embargo on all arms sales to Indonesia is the only acceptable policy towards such a repressive regime that is also in illegal occupation of East Timor.'