Sun, 26 Mar 2000

Gus Dur wants reduced dependence on U.S. arms

BANDUNG (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid said here on Saturday he wanted to reduce Indonesia's dependence on arms procurement from the United States or any single foreign country.

The President said such a dependence not only created a great financial burden but also hurt the country's security interests.

"They (the United States) also need us. Without us, security in this region is not guaranteed," he said.

"Anyway, why should we be somebody's foreman and get paid cheaply and only be given modest equipment. Logically, if we're supposed to be some sort of foreman then we should get paid highly.

"Indonesia's dependence on America is evident in the planes being used by AURI (Air Force) squadrons ... Who do they think Indonesia is? If they really do not consider us as important then why should we bother with American F-16s when we could always buy (French) Mirages or (Russian) MiGs," he remarked.

Speaking in a dialog with 1,200 soldiers of the Air Force's Special Troops (Paskhas) at its headquarters in Margahayu, Bandung, Abdurrahman said Indonesia should learn from China and India in their success in developing their own military industries.

"I have thought for a long time about reducing our acquiescence to the U.S. and depending more on our own capability," said added.

He pointed out that the country already had at least three state companies producing military equipment.

Indonesian companies producing military related equipment include the Bandung-based explosives producer PT Dahana, aircraft manufacturer PT IPTN, Surabaya-based shipbuilding company PT PAL and PT Pindad in Bandung, which produces automatic rifles.

"We are a great nation and we must have our own military industry," the President said, responding to a question by a sergeant who proposed that the country diversify its sources of military supply.

While diplomatic relations between Jakarta and Washington remain on good terms, military relations have continued to deteriorate in recent years. They nose dived during the East Timor debacle in the latter half of last year.

In May 1997 Indonesia canceled a plan to buy nine F-16s after the sale was blocked by a U.S. Congress critical of Indonesia's human rights record.

Indonesia then opted to look into purchasing Soviet-built fighter planes. However the plan was suspended due to the financial crisis.

The vanguard of Indonesia's airforce consist primarily of about two dozen British-made Hawk fighters, a few F-16s and several aging F-5s.

In September 1999 the Clinton administration imposed a ban on U.S. support of the Indonesian Military (TNI) after the eruption of violence following the Aug. 30 ballot in East Timor.

Abdurrahman indicated that he had turned down Clinton's offer of lifting the ban during their meeting in Washington in November.

According to him, with enough money Indonesia could easily buy military equipment, including jet fighters from other countries such as France and Russia.

"They (the United States) do not simply want to help us, they want to sell (their products) to us," the President remarked.


The President's visit to the Air Force command is part of a series of ongoing visits to TNI forces. He has visited the Army's Special Force (Kopassus), the National Police's Mobile Brigade (Brimob) and the marines.

During Saturday's visit, the President was accompanied by First Lady Sinta Nuriyah, TNI chief Adm. Widodo A.S. and Air Force chief Marshal Hanafie Asnan.

Paskhas Commander Rear Marshal Nanok Suratno told the President it was the first time a head of state had visited the unit since it was established in 1947.

Abdurrahman was surprised to hear Nanok's report that much of Paskhas' ordnance was all but obsolete as it was produced in the 1950s, while equipment used by marines was produced in the 1960s.

"This can no longer be tolerated, because if this situation continues it means that we will be betraying Paskhas and the marines. We give them massive responsibility without providing them with enough equipment. This is a big blunder," the President noted.

He promised to send more Air Force officers to study abroad and pledged to double the number of Paskhas troops from 3,000 to 6,000.

"Hopefully we will soon have enough money to realize the plan," the President promised.

The President was apparently satisfied with the reception he received during the visit, especially with the "Welcome Bapak President" song, which was sung by the soldiers.

"Could you give me the lyrics of the song? I want to sing it in the shower," he quipped.

However, he could not satisfy a soldier who complained about his low salary. "Every time I visit military commands, the complaints are always the same," he mused. (25/prb/sur)