As the Indonesian elections draw near, army units, police and security forces are out in force to intimidate pro-democracy activists campaigning for free and fair elections, democratisation and an end to military rule. In East Timor, where an estimated 30,000 Indonesian troops are stationed, the repression of young Timorese has been an intensified.
Jose Ramos Horta, special representative for the National Council of Maubere Resistance (CNRM) and 1996 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, has called for an embargo on arms sales to Indonesia. At a press conference at the Belgium parliament on April 21, he condemned the major western powers.
I make a strong appeal to the European Union and the United States to freeze any weapons sales to the government of Indonesia for the next three to five years because there are going to be changes ... the regime is getting oldv, Horta said. tWe find it totally unacceptable that big western democracies who are most vocal about human rights are the biggest suppliers of arms to dictatorships like Indonesia.
On April 16, a resolution on East Timor passed by the United Nations Human Rights Commission condemned the ongoing violence and repression against the people of East Timor. Four of the 20 governments that voted in support of the resolution -- the US, Britain, Germany and France -- have been Indonesia's main source of arms and military technology.
Between 1991 and 1994, Germany, France and the US were the sole providers of major arms to the Suharto dictatorship. Worth approximately US$380 million, the arms were paid for with funds channelled from World Bank and IMF loans. On April 19, within days of the UNHRC resolution, the Indonesian navy announced that it would shortly purchase at least four German submarines.
There is growing international pressure from human rights and solidarity groups over the arms sales. Whilst in Europe seeking support for the CNRM peace plan, Horta presented the International Peace Bureau's Sean MacBride award to four Ploughshare women involved in an arms protest action in Britain last year.
The four had entered a top security British Aerospace weapons factory and test site in January 1996 and disabled a BAe Hawk jet with hammers, causing z2 million in damage. In July a Liverpool court upheld their argument that they were justified in acting to prevent it being used against the people of East Timor.
BAe Hawks were used in Indonesia's invasion of East Timor and are still used in operations there. The last of 24 BAe Hawks was delivered to Indonesia on March 21. The contract was worth z500 million, and more sales are expected.
Joanna Wilson, one of the four peace activists, has called on the British government to end the sale of arms to Indonesia.
Britain continues to issue licences for the sale of Hawk jets, tanks and water cannons to Indonesia. We hope the recognition of the legitimacy of our action will send a message to the British government that this lethal trade must stop now.
While a legal bid by Tapol, the Indonesian Human Rights Campaign, the World Development Movement and the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) to seek a judicial review of weapons deals with Indonesia was quashed, the protests are making an impact.
Britain's new foreign minister, Robin Cook, has indicated that Labour may place restrictions on the arms trade if the human rights situation in Indonesia does not improve.
More than 300 CAAT activists demonstrated at the BAe annual general meeting in London on April 30, bringing proceedings to a halt. A large number of protesters found their way inside the meeting and accused the directors -- protected by glass shields and a cordon of security guards -- of supporting genocide in East Timor.
In another protest on May 5, 11 activists entered an armaments factory in Southampton and spray painted, tNot for export to Indonesiav on 25 armoured vehicles.
The campaign against the arms trade is also being waged in the US. Peace Action, the largest peace group, organised a protest outside the Indonesian embassy in Washington during Horta's tour in March. Hundreds of students from around the country gathered, and, while holding white crosses, called out the names of East Timorese killed by US weapons. Thirty students were arrested.
Ninety per cent of the weapons used by Indonesia in the invasion of East Timor were US made. Since then, the Suharto dictatorship has received $1.1 billion worth of arms from US companies.
The US weapons industry is granted $7.6 billion in federal subsidies to promote and finance arms exports. According to data collected by researchers, these subsidies accounted for over half the total value of US arms exported worldwide in 1995.
The East Timor Action Network (ETAN), Peace Action and other human rights groups are focusing on halting the proposed sale of 11 F-16s to Indonesia. The sale, first mooted in August 1995, is on hold pending approval by Congress. If it goes ahead, it will be the first US sale of major combat craft to Indonesia in more than a decade.
Later this year, Congress will also vote on a bill, the Indonesia Military Assistance Accountability Act, to tighten the sale of small arms and the provision of military training for one year, unless there is an improvement in the human rights situation in East Timor and Indonesia. Faced with an increasingly influential pro-Indonesia lobby, ETAN and its supporters are carrying out campaigns to raise awareness about the extent of US support for the Suharto regime.