Procurement: July 18, 2003


The British Government is embarrassed by a recent photo in the Indonesian daily Suara Pembaruan showing two Scorpion tanks in use during an offensive in north Aceh, while an Indonesian military commander told The Observer he knew the Foreign Office in London would 'have a fit' when they found out. The light tanks were supposed to be used against external threats, not internal "repression". Indonesian generals repeatedly said they had no intent to abide by non-binding assurances made to the British Government about the use of weapons. On July 12, a British Foreign Office spokesman said an investigation would be launched. 

A human rights group had complained to the British government about the 36 Scorpions in late June and the press had mentioned their deployment when the campaign started in May. 

Profit margins for an ailing British arms industry were a strong motivator for the Indonesian sale. The value of British arms cleared for export to Indonesia rose from $3.25 million in 2000 to over $65 million in 2002. Despite pressure to block the sale, then Foreign Secretary Robin Cook allowed the export of these tanks in 1997/1998 because he claimed they had received assurances they would not be used for internal repression. This was part of the Blair government's attempt to introduce an "ethical" foreign policy. - Adam Geibel


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