Subject:  Russia Eases RI Way to More Guns

The Jakarta Post

Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2005

Russia Eases RI Way to More Guns

Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Russia has offered cash-strapped Indonesia more facilities to buy arms and opportunities to master defense technology against the backdrop of an arms embargo imposed by Indonesia's traditional weapons supplier, the United States.

The Indonesian Ministry of Defense's director general of procurement Pieter L.D. Wattimena, told the press that both countries had agreed on "a simple mechanism" for arms deals in the future, including Indonesia's plan to buy 12 more Sukhoi jet fighters, as well as an aircraft carrier and missiles.

"Russia has offered us a counter-trade mechanism and the payments are negotiable as Russia has also agreed to open bank accounts to channel export credits to Indonesia," said Pieter, who is fresh from a visit to Russia last week.

Pieter led a delegation to Moscow to also negotiate the purchase of weaponry for the four Sukhois Indonesia bought in 2003. The purchases sparked controversy in the House of Representatives at the time as some lawmakers accused the government of paying too much for the jets, minus the necessary weaponry.

The House approved a budget allocation of Rp 21 trillion (around US$2.1 billion) for defense in fiscal 2005, accounting for 6 percent of the overall budget. For next year, the government has proposed an increase of Rp 2 trillion.

Around 70 percent of the budget has always been spent on the upkeep of soldiers.

Pieter said Indonesia and Russia were seeking tighter defense cooperation through a transfer of know-how and technology, and the accreditation of Indonesian military products under Russian license.

The defense ministry has suggested to Russia that such cooperation involve state shipbuilder PT PAL, aircraft manufacturer PT Dirgantara Indonesia and the Army Industrial Affairs Center (Pindad).

Indonesia has been desperately seeking new arms suppliers to help it modernize its weaponry after the United States imposed an embargo 13 years ago following the violent suppression of a demonstration in the then East Timor.

Washington eased the embargo after the tsunami devastated Aceh and Nias and killed over 130,000 people on Dec. 26 last year. A full restoration of military ties between the two countries faces another challenge, however, in the form of the killing of two American teachers in Papua in an ambush in 2002, which also left an Indonesian dead.

Some eastern European countries, as well as Indonesian's Southeast Asian neighbors, have proposed cooperation in developing defense industries in Indonesia, but lack of money has prevented the plans from being realized.

When asked about turning to Israel as another potential supplier, Pieter said Israeli telecommunications and information technology for defense purposes was among the best in world, "but we can't start cooperative ventures as Indonesia and Israel don't have diplomatic relations," he said.

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