Thu, 13 Oct 1994

RI-Britain forge closer defense ties

JAKARTA (JP): President Soeharto met with British Chief of Defense Staff Field Marshall Peter Inge yesterday to solidify defense ties between Jakarta and London.

Following his meeting with Soeharto at Bina Graha, Field Marshall Inge told reporters that the prospects of future British arms sales to Indonesia were promising.

"We are looking to sell certain things like Hawk aircraft and Scorpions (armored vehicles)," said Inge who was accompanied by Commander of the Armed Forces Gen. Feisal Tanjung.

His assurances come amid attempts by the U.S. congress to link arms sales to Indonesia with the situation in East Timor.

Indonesia's plan to buy U.S. built F-5 fighters from Jordan last year was blocked by the United States, and since then there have been repeated attempts in the U.S. congress to limit arms sales to Indonesia.

Responding to this, Indonesian military officials have pointed out that Indonesia does not depend on a single supplier for its weapons purchases.

Britain recently won a 500 million poundsterling (US$790 million) contract for the purchase of 24 Hawk ground-attack fighters.

Known for its agility and dual role as a trainer and fighter aircraft, the Hawks are expected to begin being delivered in 1996.

Gen. Feisal, who joined his British counterpart on a courtesy call to President Soeharto, disclosed that a contract to buy the British-made Scorpion armored vehicles would also be signed in the near future.

These light tanks are currently being used by the New Zealand, Belgian, Oman and Malaysian armies.

When queried on whether Indonesia would purchase additional military hardware from Britain, Inge said that such a decision was not his to make.

Nevertheless Gen. Feisal hinted that future purchases were likely. "The possibility is always there but we'll have to see. It all depends on the state budget," Feisal said.

Elaborating on the morning's meeting with the President, Feisal revealed that the discussion centered around the possibility of military training and increased cooperation between the armed forces of the two countries.

He added that neither Inge nor Soeharto touched on the issue of human rights.

When confronted with the issue of East Timor, Inge said that during his four-day visit here which began on Sunday he was more concerned with improving the working relationship between the British and Indonesian armed forces.

"It is not for me to get involved in the politics of another country," he said. (mds)