Sat, 29 Mar 2003

Mega to go ahead with Russia visit

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Despite the international turmoil as a result of the war in Iraq, President Megawati Soekarnoputri is likely to go ahead with her plan to visit Russia, Rumania and Poland next month.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda said on Friday the planned visit had been arranged long before the Iraq crisis emerged. Megawati, Hassan added, would use her meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss, among other topics, the Iraq war.

Russia is one of the major countries that spearheaded the opposition movement against the United States-led attack on Iraq.

Indonesia, despite its good relations with Washington, shares a similar stance and continues to support efforts to end the war.

There is no date set yet for the President's departure to Moscow, but sources at the presidential palace said it would be either on April 17 or April 21. She is slated to return home on April 27.

It will be the first visit of an Indonesian president to Russia in 13 years.

Foreign ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa said in the weekly press briefing that preparations for the visit were underway.

"Nothing has changed, but the official date for the President's departure will be announced by the office of the President," Marty said.

Indonesia is also likely to discuss the possible purchase of weaponry from Russia. Jakarta has been complaining about insufficient military equipment due to a military embargo imposed by the U.S. since 1999.

Earlier Russian Federation Ambassador to Indonesia Vladimir Y. Plotnikov said both countries were expected to reach seven or eight economic deals, possibly including the purchase of military hardware.

Sources at the foreign ministry office said that there are around 10 Memorandums of Understanding to be signed during Megawati's visit to Moscow.

"The one that is most certain is on the weaponry cooperation with Russia," the source said on Friday.

Indonesia had planned to buy 12 Sukhoi SU-30 jet fighters and eight MI-17-IV helicopters worth US$500 million in 1997, but the plan was dropped due to the economy crisis.

Since the U.S. imposed a military embargo on Indonesia in 1999 following the East Timor mayhem, Jakarta has been exploring other sources of military hardware, especially from eastern European countries.

In her earlier trip to the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Croatia last year, Megawati looked into the possibility of building cooperation in the arms industry.