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Indonesia Turning to Moscow For ArmS (15 Apr 2003)

The Indonesian army is turning to Moscow to upgrade its outdated arsenal. This is because a 12-year ban imposed by Washington on arm sales to Indonesia has forced the military to look at the Russian option to replace old weapons.

Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri will be traveling to Russia scheduled for April 21st and will be meeting with Russian President Putin. Both will hold a discussion regarding the Iraq crisis but the primary issues would be trade and arms sales.

The visit by President Megawati will allow Russian companies to bid for lucrative deals in the oil and gas sector, previously dominated by American and British companies. The US was previously Indonesia's largest weapons supplier and annual arms sales went up to US$400 million (S$712 million) in the 1980s. It was in 1991 that US Congress banned arm sales after Indonesian soldiers killed hundreds of civilians in East Timor. US lawmakers extended the ban to cover almost all military ties with Indonesia.

However, last year's Bali bombings highlighted the need for a more advanced army as the threat of terrorism in Indonesia is a reality. Several in the Bush administration have pushed for the ban to be reconsidered.

For now, US Lawmakers have reinstated only a limited officer-training programme, which according to the Indonesian generals is insufficient to meet defence demands.

Indonesia has already purchased weapons from Moscow, recently acquiring 10,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles, a fleet of naval Mil-2 choppers and a dozen BTR-80A amiphibious carriers.

Currently, Indonesia utilizes Rapier missiles bought 30 years back to defend its oil and gas fields in Sumatra, Borneo and Papua from air attacks. The military finds difficulty in restocking them.

The Indonesian Air Force is said to be considering acquiring Sukhoi Su-27 interceptors.