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Indonesia: Arms Trade Thrives on Corruption and Lax Patrols
(18 Jul 2002)

Inadequate naval patrolling and officials who The illegal arms shipping can be paid off to turn a blind eye are the weak links enabling a thriving weapons trade through which Thai middlemen supply hundreds of guns, grenade and rocket propellers to the Aceh rebels.

Residents who live along the extensive coastline of the northern Indonesian province frequently witness small shipments of weapons destined for either the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) or other criminal gangs.

The weapons are usually transported via small fishing boats, according to him.

The GAM rebels frequently brandish imported weapons such as AK-47s and M-16s but they also possess many locally made guns.

In West Aceh too, residents say they hear of fishing boats making night visits to drop off weapons along the sparsely-populated coast.

Neither the military nor the navy is prepared to say how many weapons are smuggled into Aceh.

Over the past year, however, the military says it has captured over 500 weapons, many of which are foreign-made.

Indonesia's over-stretched navy, which has just five ships to patrol the Malacca Straits and the North and West Aceh coastline, has failed to stamp out the lively smuggling trade.

It was virtually impossible for the navy to track the smugglers with their tiny force.

The navy tries to patrol the North Sumatra and North Aceh coastline, which faces the Malacca Straits, but many other areas such as the beaches of West Aceh are under-patrolled.

The smugglers use small fishing boats which are fast and not easily detected by the patrol boats.

According to local aid workers, smuggling is easy enough because the military or police officials encountered at road checkpoints can be bribed.

It is suspected that much of GAM's weapons were obtained from the Indonesian security forces rather than from international suppliers.

They can be easily bought and being locally-made are better suited to the ammunition, most of which is sourced within Indonesia.

The underpaid military and police were often quite willing to sell their weapons to the rebels or else to criminal gangs, he added.

The black market price of 20 million rupiah was still 10 times more than the price the military pays to buy the same weapon from the local weapons manufacturer.