Tue, 26 Aug 2003

Sukhoi probe to continue: House

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Legislators with the House of Representatives (DPR) Commission I for defense and foreign affairs vowed on Monday to continue to probe irregularities in the purchase of the Russian-made Sukhois jet fighters, despite the warplanes' arrival here on Wednesday.

Legislator Amrin Hasan of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan) told The Jakarta Post on Monday that a House Commission I inquiry team would summon Minister for Industry and Trade Rini MS Soewandi -- the main actor in the US$192.6 million counter-trade deal -- at the end of August to clarify the issue.

He was also astonished by the early delivery of the warplanes.

President Megawati Soekarnoputri signed a memorandum of understanding on the purchase of two Sukhoi-30s, two Sukhoi-27s, and two MI-35 assault helicopters when she visited Russia in April.

The first delivery, the Sukhoi-30s, will arrive on Wednesday (not on Tuesday as reported on Monday), while the Sukhoi-27s will arrive on Aug. 31.

"What's the hurry? It is better to wait for the result of the House's inquiry," Amrin said.

Meanwhile, fellow legislator Djoko Susilo of the Reform faction, said the government was humiliating the House by pressing ahead with the Sukhoi deal.

"Legislators can take other action against the government," Djoko said without elaboration.

While admitting the importance of procuring new weapons for the country's military, legislators had questioned the choice of Sukhoi jet fighters and the procedure of acquiring the warplanes.

The presence of the Sukhois would require the Indonesian military to set up new maintenance facilities as it was accustomed to warplanes produced by the United States and its allies.

Furthermore, the House questioned the procedure as the Defense Ministry -- which under the current defense law is tasked with procuring all military equipment -- was not consulted in the deal.

A House inquiry team has already started to question business people and individuals believed to have further knowledge about the deal or countertrade deal.

One of the businessmen questioned by the House, Marimutu Manimaren, allegedly committed suicide earlier this month.

Meanwhile, Antara reported Monday that the Iswahyudi Air Base in Madiun, East Java, was ready to host the welcoming ceremony for the jet fighters.

"We have made preparations to welcome the warplanes. Military chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto and Air Force Chief Marshal Chappy Hakim are expected to attend the ceremony," said Maj. Bintang Yudianta, the Air Base's commander.

Separately, Vice President Hamzah Haz emphasized that the government would not ignore the recommendation from the House's inquiry team. He said the Minister for Finance, Boediono, had requested the House's approval.

Head of the State Logistics Agency (Bulog) Widjanarko Puspojo -- who was in charge of the countertrade deal -- is currently in Moscow to witness the departure of the warplanes.

The Sukhoi jet fighters will be flown in with Antonov II, believed to be world's biggest cargo airplane.

The Indonesian Air Force also sent six pilots to Russia for training on how to operate the Russian warplanes. They were Maj. Arif Mustofa, Maj. Andi Heru Wahyudi, Maj. Palito Sitorus, Maj. Andi Kustoro, Capt. Endik Triwidarto, and Capt. MJ Hanafi.

Indonesia had planned to purchase one squadron of Sukhoi SU- 27s in 1997, but the plan was aborted due to the economic crisis and pressure from the United States.

The presence of Sukhoi jet fighters is likely to reduce the country's dependence on the United States and its allies, which had imposed a military embargo on Indonesia since the bloody violence in East Timor in 1999.