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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on unrest in Indonesia which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The Statement is as follows:
"Our top priority remains to ensure the safety of British citizens in Indonesia. Throughout the recent unrest the embassy has kept in close touch with the British community through the warden system and regularly updated travel advice. This advice has also been broadcast by the BBC World Service. Emergency telephone lines have been set up in Jakarta to provide up-to-date information 24 hours a day.
"Advice to resident British nationals caught up in the unrest has been kept under constant review. From Friday, 15th May, Britons were advised to consider leaving. Early this morning, in view of the latest political developments and the demonstrations expected on 20th May, we issued advice that British citizens should leave Indonesia, preferably avoiding travel on 20th May. At our ambassador's request, an additional British Airways 747 flight has been arranged by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, leaving Jakarta later today for Kuala Lumpur. There are also other scheduled flights available.
"British citizens with safe access to the airport were advised to make their own way there, where an embassy team will be available at the British Airways office to give advice. The embassy also chartered a fleet of buses to transport British citizens from central Jakarta. As an extra precaution, a police escort was requested and provided.
"I should like to thank the staff of our embassy in Jakarta for their hard work in the face of enormous difficulties and a very unpredictable political situation. They, and many of their spouses, have been working tirelessly around the clock since 14th May to help the local British community. Many of them also have dependants in Indonesia to worry about. Although their work is not yet over, I should like to take this opportunity to thank them now for their continuing efforts.
"The situation in Indonesia is changing very rapidly. President Suharto has told the Indonesian people in a television address today that there will be a general election as soon as possible and that he will not stand again himself. We call on the Government of Indonesia to ensure that the new elections are free and fair. Political reforms are needed that will do justice to the aspirations of the people of Indonesia. The tragic violence that we have seen over the past week must be stopped, before more innocent lives are claimed. We urge Indonesia to introduce the necessary changes quickly so that calm and stability can be restored.
"The British Government have been following developments in Indonesia very closely over recent months. Ministers have made our concerns very clear to the Indonesian authorities. I visited Jakarta in March and my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was also in Indonesia at the beginning of this month. He took the opportunity to underline the importance of political and economic reform. Together with our European partners, we issued a statement on 13th May calling on the authorities to exercise maximum restraint and to respect individual rights. This message has been conveyed to the Indonesian authorities through our embassy in Jakarta and I personally summoned the Indonesian Ambassador on 13th May.
"My right honourable friend the Prime Minister also took the opportunity of the G8 Summit to discuss the situation in Indonesia. As the House will know, leaders called on the Government of Indonesia to refrain from using lethal force and to initiate political reform.
"We have stressed the importance of political and economic reform. The two are now essential to recovery in Indonesia. I am sure that the House will want to support the Government in calling for peaceful transition in Indonesia".
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement being made in another place. We are grateful for the opportunity to hear the Government's concern about the situation in Indonesia, which, in recent days, has been teetering on the edge of anarchy. We share the Government's sorrow at the rioting, looting and burning witnessed in Jakarta. This is the worst violence in the city since President Suharto took power in 1965 and has resulted in a rising death toll approaching some 500.
From these Benches we join the Minister in conveying our condolences to the family of the Briton murdered during the riots and to the families of all the innocent Indonesians who have died. Likewise, we also pay tribute to the work carried out by our embassy officials and would like to associate ourselves with the Minister's recognition of the bravery of Miss Clare Hatton who has kept the British Airways office open in Jakarta and enabled more than 2,000 people to leave the country.
I join the Minister in condemning the rioting and the unprovoked racist attacks, particularly on the ethnic Chinese community. There is a fundamental difference between those who take to the streets in peaceful political protest and the mob rule of violence and death seen in Jakarta in recent days. What reports have the Government had of the situation outside the capital, particularly in East Timor and in Irian Jaya? We welcome the Government's decision to urge the Indonesian authorities to use maximum restraint in dealing with crowd situations in order to avoid any further escalation of violence.
I wish to ask the Minister a few questions about the arms used in the recent disorder. Can the Minister confirm whether the Scorpion armoured reconnaissance vehicles which have been used to suppress protests in Indonesia were exported from Britain under this Government? Can the Minister further confirm whether Hawk aircraft have been used at any time during these disturbances? Is it the Government's intention to revoke export licences to Indonesia, as the Member for Cynon Valley has suggested? President Suharto has made a live address on national television promising to implement reforms and to hold parliamentary elections as soon as the Indonesian constitution allows. Does the Minister believe that a change of government can be achieved under the present Indonesian constitution? Does the Minister support President Suharto's decision not to resign immediately? If so, what timescale would be appropriate and practical for new elections to be held in Indonesia? Will the Government offer to send British experts in elections to provide advice to the Indonesian authorities on the drafting of new laws?
Finally, does the Minister agree that the recent agreement between Indonesia and the international financial institutions, including the IMF, must be adhered to if growth and confidence in the country are to be restored? What consultations have the Government had with Indonesia's regional neighbours and with our European partners on the situation in that country? We
Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, on behalf of my colleagues I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement to the House. I also thank the staff of the British Embassy and British Airways in Jakarta for the help they have given to our citizens. Will every British citizen who wants to leave be enabled to do so in the reasonably near future? When the Government say in the Statement that they call on the Government of Indonesia to ensure that the new elections are free and fair, does the Minister recognise--as the Opposition spokesman has mentioned--that that is rather a difficult objective under the present constitution? Will the Minister make it clear to the present Government of Indonesia that to be successful such elections would have to be administered genuinely independently, and possibly with some external assistance?
In recent days British television viewers have watched democratic demonstrations in Jakarta being put down by British made water cannon firing British supplied nerve gas. My colleagues and I have tried to find the difference between the policy of the previous administration and the ethical foreign policy of the present Administration on the question of supplies to Indonesia. We have found an interesting difference. On 26th November 1996 the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker of Wallasey, stated in a Written Answer,
In the light of that subtle difference, will the Minister explain or confirm that 22 licences were granted to Indonesia between May 1997 and December 1997 for toxicological agents, riot control agents, body armour, and so on, and that between 1st January and 3rd April this year a further 28 individual arms licences were granted to Indonesia, some of them even after the troubles and violence began? What licences have been refused to Indonesia?
When I visited Jakarta a couple of years ago one of the people who impressed me most was the Speaker of the Parliament who seemed keen to improve the role of that parliament. Therefore is not his call for the resignation of President Suharto of particular significance and importance? In a meeting I attended with newspaper editors it became clear that the press operate under a strict system where, if they write something inimical to the regime, their licence to publish can be suspended. The conclusion we have to come to in this unhappy tragedy is that an ethical foreign policy must begin by denying weapons of security to unethical regimes.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Moynihan and Lord Steel, for their kind tributes to the British Embassy staff which I shall do my best to ensure are conveyed to the staff and to the spouses of staff in the embassy who have made such enormous efforts over the past weekend. I acknowledge again the bravery of Miss Clare Hatton from the British Airways office.
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, asked about the position outside Jakarta. As I understand it, there are demonstrations outside Jakarta at the moment although I do not have precise information. The warnings and advice that the British Government are issuing apply across Indonesia except for Bali. I hope that that answers the point; namely, that we are concerned about the situation elsewhere in Indonesia because there is sufficient unrest to warrant that concern.
The noble Lord asked various questions--as indeed did the noble Lord, Lord Steel--about the equipment being used in the repression on the streets of Jakarta. I shall do my best to answer specific points put by both noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, went into specific detail which I may have to answer by letter. As regards the Scorpion tanks and the water cannon of British origin seen by television viewers being used recently, the licences were approved under the previous administration. It is not realistic or practical to revoke licences which were valid and in force under the previous government. We have issued no new licences for any equipment where we have judged that there is a clearly identifiable risk that it might be used for internal repression or external aggression. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, asked about Hawk aircraft. We have studied all the information available as regards Hawks being used in East Timor. We are confident that UK supplied Hawk aircraft have not been used there, or in any counter-insurgency role in Indonesia. That is the information that I have as of today's date.
The noble Lord, Lord Steel, asked about refusals of licences. Since 2nd May we have refused a number of standard individual licences for Indonesia. We believe that this clearly demonstrates that the new criteria are having an impact. We are not in a position to give details on individual contracts as the information is confidential to the companies concerned and to their customers but if there are questions which the noble Lord has posed which I can answer without compromising that confidentiality, I shall be happy to do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, asked about President Suharto's position. I think it is still too early to anticipate when the elections he referred to in his broadcast yesterday are likely to take place. The noble Lord will know that there has been a certain amount of speculation about that in the press. As regards answering that question at the moment, I do not have any additional information. The noble Lord also asked whether it might be possible for British experts to help in those elections. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, mentioned that any elections should be clearly seen to be independent and to have received external assistance.
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, then went on to ask about the IMF and the economic situation. We have contributed greatly to tackling the current financial problems in Indonesia. We have given full support to the IMF's role in seeking to restore confidence to markets in the region with its various rescue packages. Our aid effort in Indonesia is largely channelled through multi-lateral organisations such as the World Bank. We have also responded to the ICRC's appeal for help in Irian Jaya and East Timor. I hope that answers the points on the IMF.
Perhaps I may make one further point. I made an error in beginning my Statement this afternoon. I indicated that the Statement was being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. It is in fact being made by my honourable friend Mr. Fatchett. I apologise to your Lordships for that mistake.
Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, in thanking my noble friend for repeating the Statement and for adding to it, may I ask her whether there is any estimate of the number of British citizens still in Jakarta and if it is known whether all of them are wishing to leave or whether there is a substantial number who are intending, against the advice tendered to them, to stay in Indonesia?
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