Subject: AP: Indonesia Turns to Russia for Weapons

April 14, 2003

Indonesia Turns to Russia for Weapons By SLOBODAN LEKIC ASSOCIATED PRESS

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) - The dictator has fallen, the media unshackled, democratic elections held, East Timor freed and Indonesia was quick to sign onto President Bush's global war on terror after Sept. 11, 2001.

Yet, Washington maintains a 12-year ban on arms sales to the world's most populous Muslim nation to curb continuing human rights abuses, leading Jakarta's frustrated generals to look elsewhere to replace antiquated arsenals.

Toward that end, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri travels to Moscow later this month to seek the Kremlin's help in modernizing her 300,000-member armed forces.

She also is likely to open the way for Russian companies to vie for lucrative deals in the oil and gas sector, long dominated by American and British resource giants.

Although far apart on the globe, Indonesia and Russia have basic things in common.

Both have massive, multiethnic populations. Both struggle to preserve national unity as they fight separatism and build democracy after the collapse of decades of authoritarian rule.

Both are resource-rich but face huge economic problems made worse by endemic corruption. And, both have opposed the U.S.-led war on Iraq.

Indonesia's Foreign Ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa says Megawati's meeting with Russian President Putin scheduled for April 21 will touch on the Iraq crisis.

But other diplomats say that issue will serve primarily to bring the two closer together on bottom-line issues such as trade and arms sales.

Analysts worry that Indonesia's military now is so degraded it no longer can control the borders of the far-flung archipelago, allowing for easy infiltration by extremists.

Last year's Bali bombings, which killed 202 people, illustrated the threat of terrorism in Indonesia. Also, broad opposition to the U.S.-led attack on Iraq threatens to lead to a backlash by militant Islamists.

Close ties between Moscow and Jakarta are not unprecedented.

Indonesia relied on Soviet military assistance in the 1950s under founding President Sukarno - Megawati's father - but these were severed after the anti-communist Gen. Suharto seized power in 1965.

The United States quickly became the Southeast Asian country's main weapons supplier, and annual arms sales peaked at $400 million in the 1980s.

In 1991, however, the U.S. Congress banned this after Indonesian troops killed hundreds of civilians in East Timor.

In 1999, East Timor became free, but only after Indonesian forces laid waste to it as they withdrew after a pro-independence referendum.

The destruction prompted U.S. lawmakers to expand the ban to cover almost all military ties with Indonesia.

Since then, some in the Bush administration - particularly Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a former ambassador to Jakarta and an architect of the Iraq war - have pushed for the ban to be repealed.

However, a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity, "In terms of military sales, the accountability is still a problem that's out there, and it's not likely that it will be resolved soon."

In Washington, State Department officials said no change in the current ban was being contemplated, although there have been some sales of spare parts in the recent past.

The prohibition on sales of new equipment relates to the need for Indonesian accountability for past human rights abuses, the officials said.

Indonesia, a mainly Muslim but politically secular state, is a natural ally in the struggle against terrorism.

So far, U.S. lawmakers have reinstated only a limited officer training program. But that is far from enough for Indonesia's generals.

"I think the Indonesian military has finally decided that restrictions and conditionalities from Washington are just not worth it," said Juwono Sudarsono, a former defense minister. "So they want to look for alternative sources for planes, helicopters and other hardware."

Moscow has already had some success in wooing Indonesia as a customer.

Jakarta recently purchased some Russian weapons, including 10,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles, a squadron of naval Mil-2 helicopters and a dozen BTR-80A amphibious carriers for its marines.

Currently, Indonesia uses short-range Rapier missiles purchased 30 years ago to protect its vital oil and natural gas fields in Sumatra, Borneo and Papua from air attack.

"Replenishing them has been a big problem," Sudarsono said.

Air defense commanders want to augment the Rapiers with Russia's impressive long-range S-300 missiles, or shorter-range systems such as the SA-15 Gauntlet or shoulder-fired Igla.

The Air Force reportedly is considering purchasing several squadrons of Sukhoi Su-27 interceptors, considered the world's premier dogfighters.

Previously, Indonesian Air Force commanders preferred Western jets that were compatible with the U.S.-made F-16 fighter-bombers already in the Indonesian inventory. But neighboring Malaysia's success in integrating Russian MiG-29s and American F/A-18 Hornets persuaded them otherwise, Sudarsono said.


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