Monday, July 5, 2010

US has ended lethal weapon sales ban on Indonesian Military

To quell public confusion on the state of Indonesia’s military relations with the US, the Defense Ministry confirmed that the world’s largest weapons-maker has completely lifted an embargo banning weapon sales to the Indonesian Military (TNI). In its first clear statement on the embargo’s end, a Defense Ministry spokesman said that Indonesia could procure any type of weapon from the US because there was no longer an embargo.

“The US embargo on the sale of any type of weapon to Indonesia ended completely in 2005,” Indonesian Defense Ministry spokesman I Wayan Midhio said over the weekend. “After the embargo ended, there were no more distinctions to be made between lethal or non-lethal weapons sales,” he said. Indonesia can now purchase lethal weapons from the US and there is no “partial prohibition” of arms sales to Indonesia, as was previously reported, he added.

Many observers — even those well-informed on bilateral military relations — said they did not know if Indonesia could buy lethal weapons from the US or not, even after military ties resumed in 2005. Indonesia recently proposed a plan to purchase American-made F-16 jet fighters, which are categorized as lethal weapons, and C-130H Hercules cargo jets, which are not considered lethal, if the US lifted its embargo, as previously reported. Wayan said Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro expressed the government’s intent to buy the aircraft in a bilateral meeting with US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

The US Congress imposed an embargo that banned international military education and training (IMET) and military equipment sales to Indonesia almost two decades ago. The embargo was imposed in response to repeated human rights abuses committed by the Indonesian Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus) in West Papua and Timor Leste (then East Timor), which killed more than 100 unarmed civilians, including two US citizens, and injured dozens. Some experts maintain that the US encouraged Indonesia’s use of lethal force against civilians in East Timor.

Padjadjaran University international relations expert Teuku Rezasyah said history shows that former US president Gerald Ford and former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger gave the Indonesian government a “green light” to send Kopassus to East Timor and ignored reports of violence during official US government visits to Indonesia. The US Congress said it would lift the ban entirely only if the US government could ensure that Indonesia addressed human rights violations. An Indonesian government delegation led by former president Megawati Soekarnoputeri, visited the US in 2001 in an attempt to soften the policy.

The meeting between Megawati and former US president George W. Bush resulted in a US commitment to provide US$400,000 in extended IMET and to lift the embargo on non-lethal military weapon sales. The US Congress has not approved joint military trainings between Kopassus and the US military due to alleged Kopassus human rights abuses. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is expected to raise the issue during US President Barack Obama’s planned visit to Indonesia in November.

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