Sat, 04 Jan 2003

Megawati plans to visit to Russia in April

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

President Megawati Soekarnoputri plans to visit Russia next April over possible talks of purchasing Russian weapons, in what would mark the first visit by an Indonesian president to Moscow in 13 years.

The plan comes on the heels of Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda's trip to Moscow in September last year. It too was the first visit by a high-ranking Indonesian official in 13 years.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman Marty M. Natalegawa said Megawati's planned trip underlined the important role of Russia on the international front.

"The planned visit is a recognition of that fact," he told reporters at a press briefing on Friday.

Marty could only say Megawati would depart for Moscow in "the near future".

A spokesperson at the Russian embassy said the visit was slated for mid to late April.

Marty said the agenda for the upcoming talks was still being discussed, yet he did not rule out the possibility of Indonesia seeking Russian weapons.

Following the 1999 U.S. military embargo, the Indonesian military has been looking to mainly former Eastern block countries for new weapons.

Some of Indonesia's U.S. military products, such as the sophisticated yet costly F-16 fighter jets, are now idle due to the absence of spare parts.

Indonesia must also look for cheaper alternatives in the European weaponry markets since the 1997 economic crisis has put a heavy strain on the military budget.

During Megawati's trip to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina last year she was exploring the purchase of arms from these countries.

Washington severed its military ties with Indonesia in response to the violence in East Timor following the UN-backed ballot for independence from Indonesia in 1999.

Indonesian military officials allegedly supported the pro- Jakarta militias who killed hundreds of East Timorese while destroying much of the infrastructure in the capital of Dili.