Tue, 24 Jun 2003

Britain monitoring use of Scorpion tanks

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja and Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Indonesia defended on Monday the use of British-made Scorpion light tanks in the Aceh offensive as the United Kingdom continued to keep a wary eye open for any misuses of the war machines.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office said on Monday that any military equipment sold to Indonesia was on the basis that it would not be used offensively or in such as way as to violate human rights.

"The deployment of Scorpion tanks per se is not necessarily in violation of any assurances, but it is a question of how they use those tanks. We are monitoring the situation," the office said as quoted by Reuters.

London was commenting on the deployment of 36 tanks bought by Indonesia from Britain in the mid-1990s as part of the ongoing military operation to crush Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels.

Former defense minister Juwono Sudarsono acknowledged that Indonesia had entered into a gentleman's agreement with Britain when purchasing Hawk warplanes and Scorpion tanks that the equipment would only be used for "defense purposes".

"However, there were no explanations as to what the term "defense purposes"meant as it was an understanding and not a written agreement between the two sides," Juwono, who is taking up an ambassadorial posting in London, told The Jakarta Post.

He said the government at the time was represented by the then military chief, Gen. (ret) Feisal Tandjung, and his predecessor, Gen. (ret) L.B. Moerdani, during the purchase negotiations.

Juwono, who was the deputy governor of the military think tank, the National Resilience Institute, when the purchase took place, said the term "defense" was open to interpretation as Jakarta considered the military operation in Aceh a self-defense action to protect the territorial integrity of the country.

In his visit here last month, British Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien questioned the use of Hawk jet fighters in Aceh, and warned of possible damage to the military relationship between the two countries.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ryamizard Ryacudu defended on Monday the deployment of the Scorpion tanks, saying that they would guard trucks carrying basic necessities traveling on the main road connecting Medan in North Sumatra and Banda Aceh, which was "prone to rebel ambushes".

"We (the TNI) have to maintain security along the route so that public transportation and supplies are not halted due to security problems," Ryamizard told reporters.

He said no country had the right to prevent the Indonesian military from using its hardware as long as this was not intended to harm civilians.