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Indonesia cancels deal to buy U.S. F-16s

Move comes amid friction over human rights record

June 6, 1997
Web posted at: 12:00 p.m. EDT

JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- Striking back at congressional critics in the United States, the Indonesian government has dropped plans to buy nine F-16 warplanes from the United States and to participate in a U.S.-sponsored international military training program.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas said Friday the government decided to forego its participation in the Extended International Military Education and Training program (E-IMET) and drop plans to buy the warplanes to help ease frictions between the two countries.

Jakarta has come under fire from some U.S. senators and congressmen, particularly over its human rights record and East Timor, the former Portuguese colony that Indonesia occupied in 1975 and annexed the following year.

Alatas

The United States had initiated the sale of the F-16s to Indonesia after Congress blocked their original sale to Pakistan over Islamabad's nuclear policy. Pakistan had made an advance payment of $658 million for the planes, a sum which has not yet been refunded.

Indonesia said it would buy the F-16s at a fraction of the price. But before the sale could be finalized, a split within one of Indonesia's three political parties sparked the worst riots in Jakarta in more than 20 years. Citing concerns of human rights violations, Congress held up the planes' release to Jakarta as well.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman in Jakarta said bilateral relations remain close despite the cancellation.

Alatas said he hoped the decision would make U.S.-Indonesian ties stronger. "What we are saying basically is, please, we don't want to cause you difficulties, we don't want those planes, we didn't want those planes in the first place. ... we don't need to be in the E-IMET, it's only a $2.5 million program," Alatas said.

"We are trying to help the U.S. Congress, so why should it impact us negatively?"

And in a letter to U.S. President Bill Clinton, Indonesian President Suharto expressed confidence that the relationship between the two countries "would move forward to a new and even sounder level of cooperation based on mutual respect, mutual benefit and non-interference in each other's domestic affairs."

Earlier this week, the U.S. State Department criticized Indonesia's conduct in May 29 general elections, urging the government to move toward greater democracy after the ruling Golkar party won a landslide victory. Poll monitors and minority parties say the ballot was marred by vote-rigging and other irregularities.

While Alatas has criticized Washington's call for an investigation into the election, he said that wasn't a factor in the decision on the jet deal.

Correspondent Maria Ressa Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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