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Call for writing-off ‘dictators’debts’

16 November 2012

AP

On parade: the Legion of Veterans of the Republic of Indonesia, in Surabaya, com­memorate Heroes Day, on 11 November, with re-enactments of a battle against the Allies in 1945

On parade: the Legion of Veterans of the Republic of Indonesia, in Surabaya, com­memorate Heroes Day, on 11 November, with re-enactments of a battle...

MANY of the millions of pounds of debt owed to the UK by developing countries were originally borrowed by repressive regimes to pay for British-made arms, new government statistics suggest.

The highest borrower, Indonesia, spent almost three-quarters of loans totalling £853 million on defence equipment. Much of this money was used by the dictator General Suharto to buy tanks and aircraft. The former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook later admitted that some of the British arms were used to quash civilian uprisings in East Timor.

Another heavy borrower, Argentina, spent almost 40 per cent of British loans on military hardware, including weapons later used in the Falkland Islands invasion.

Figures released on Monday by UK Export Finance, the government department that manages foreign debt, show that Britain is owed nearly £1 billion by 20 countries. The figures do not include loans already repaid.

"They reveal a past history of horrendous loans to dictators," Tim Jones, the policy officer at the Jubilee Debt Campaign, which is pressing for a write-off of the debt of developing countries, said. "People in these countries should not have to pay these unjust debts. . . We have been calling for a long time for an audit into this debt. The release of these figures is a step forward, and something the Government has previously said could not be done. We're now pushing them to hold a full audit, where the details of each project are released. . .

"Vince Cable should implement Liberal Democrat policy and hold a full audit into these debts, to find out what the real impact of the projects was in the countries concerned. The Government should then cancel all those debts that are unjust, which did not benefit the people who are now repaying them.

The loans include £5 million lent to Saddam Hussein, and £12 million used by Zimbabwe to buy Land Rovers, which, Amnesty International later said, were used in attacks against opposition activists.

In his annual speech at the Guildhall, on Monday, the Prime Minister said that he made "no apology" for helping Britain's defence industry sell abroad. During an export drive in the Gulf last week, he was criticised for backing sales to states in the region that have poor human-rights records. But he insisted that Britain had the toughest rules on arms exports in the world.

 

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