Subject: Mandela sought release of Gusmao, arms sales to Indonesia

Indonesian Observer September 5, 2000

Mandela sought release of Gusmao, arms sales to RI

JAKARTA (IO) - When Nelson Mandela visited Indonesia in 1997, the South African leader not only pleaded for the release of East Timor rebel Xanana Gusmao with then-President Soeharto but also discussed arms sales to the Indonesian military.

Ironically, the type of South African arms offered - armed personnel carriers (APCs) and light machine guns - were suitable for dealing with the very same group he discreetly supported, at the time referred to as East Timor rebels.

The Observer's Taufik Darusman reports from Pretoria, South Africa, over the weekend:

President Nelson Mandela's short visit to Jakarta in 1997 was highlighted by his penchant for donning batik shirts and his meeting with East Timor rebel Xanana Gusmao - who was then serving a jail sentence for conducting subversive activities - at the guest-house of Merdeka Palace.

However, an unpublicized item in Mandela's Jakarta agenda showed that he was also concerned about his country's balance of payments, a problem which he tried to address by offering South African weapons to the Indonesian military.

"He offered Indonesia jet fighters, field military equipment such as armed personnel carriers (APCs) and guns at very competitive prices," a source who did not wish to be identified told the Observer in Pretoria late last week. "At the same time, he was also seeking the release of Gusmao," he added.

"The sales would have gone through were it not for the monetary crisis that hit Indonesia at the end of 1997. The military was keen on buying South African arms as they were quite state-of-the-art and quite cheap."

A source at the Indonesian Embassy in Pretoria confirmed the arms sales offer by Mandela, saying: "We were on the verge of exploring an arms purchase from South Africa when the monetary crisis set in."

He added: "When the West imposed an arms embargo on South Africa during the apartheid days, the country was forced to build an arms industry of its own. With the help of Israel it grew and became a moderately sophisticated industry. The country now sells high-tech military-version helicopters to Middle East countries and Pakistan"

The US arms embargo on Indonesia, imposed by Washington over alleged human rights violations by the Indonesian military, apparently left the Indonesian military with no other option but to seek alternative sources such as South Africa.

"South Africa produces Cheetah jet fighters, a Mirage 200 and MIG-29 hybrid. The products lack the power of brand recognition, but they are modern nevertheless. We do not rule out the possibility of buying arms and spare parts from South Africa if the Western military embargo on us continues to remain in place."

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