Source: Morning Star Online
By: Rory MacKinnon
David Cameron may have once been a West Papuan hero but activists poured scorn on the PM on Wednesday after he promised their Indonesian oppressors “the best defence equipment in the world.”
The PM arrived with an entourage of arms dealers in Jakarta, praising his hosts as a land of “great opportunities” – despite its lengthy record of human rights abuses by both police and the military.
Mr Cameron told Indonesia’s Kompas newspaper that Britain had one of the most rigorous and careful export licence schemes in the world.
“But at the same time we believe that democratic and responsible countries like Indonesia have a right to defend themselves and to buy the equipment needed to do so.
“Britain makes some of the best defence equipment in the world and it is right that it’s available to Indonesia, under the very same criteria that we apply to all our partners around the world,” he said.
But while his comments curried favour among the Indonesian elite, West Papuan activists voiced outrage. Annexed by the Suharto dictatorship in 1969, the region has seen decades of human rights abuses including arson, torture and massacres at the hands of Indonesian forces.
As recently as October, three people were killed and 90 injured after police in armoured carriers opened fire on peaceful protesters, while just last month five men were jailed for three years on charges of treason for organising the event.
But the outcry over Mr Cameron’s comments was personal as much as political. Mr Cameron became an unlikely celebrity among West Papuans on the 2010 campaign trail, when he said exiles in his electorate had described a “terrible situation.” The comment, coupled with a meeting with exiled separatist leader Benny Wenda, sparked celebrations across West Papua as news spread of the coalition’s election win.
Villagers gathered to wave pictures of Mr Cameron before reporters, while political prisoners Buchtar Tabuni and Victor Yiemo were pictured holding a “Congratulations David Cameron” placard – against the bars of their cell.
The Free West Papua Campaign described the PM’s sales pitch as “one of the worst outcomes imaginable.
“How can David Cameron meet Benny Wenda and describe the situation in West Papua as ‘terrible’ when it was Benny’s village that was bombed by British-made BAE Systems Hawk jets which continue to be sold to Indonesia?
“This really is one of the worst outcomes imaginable of David Cameron talking about Indonesia.”
Campaign Against The Arms Trade co-ordinator Kaye Stearman said Britain had a “terrible record” in the wake of the Hawk jets.
Britain had already approved £48m worth of Indonesian sales since 2008, including £33m in parts for aircraft, helicopters and drones.
“Now Cameron is to sell even more weaponry to a country which, although ostensibly a democracy, is still prosecuting a largely hidden war.”
Mr Cameron’s press office had not returned requests for comment at the time of print.