Jakarta – Despite continuing misgivings by some human rights' groups in the United States, the Bush administration has finally lifted Washington's six-year ban on arms sales to Indonesia. The move is seen as an acknowledgement of Indonesia's key role in the global war against terror – or in the words of Media Indonesia, a "reward" for Indonesia's help in cracking down on Al-Qaeda-linked militants.
The arms embargo was imposed on Indonesia in 1999 after members of the Indonesian military (TNI) were accused of ravaging East Timor during the territory's fight for independence.
The lifting of the ban, announced on Nov 23, also reflects the growing closeness brought together by a perceived common threat to the two countries' national interests: Islamic terrorism.
A US State Department statement said the Bush administration considers Washington's relationship with Jakarta "to be of the utmost importance". And in a reference to Indonesia's importance in the US-led war against terrorism, the statement added: "As the world's most populous majority-Muslim nation, Indonesia is a voice of moderation in the Islamic world."
In New Delhi, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he hopes that the lifting of the arms' embargo would improve TNI's capability.
Apart from enabling Indonesia to buy military equipment from the United States and enjoy financing facilities, the lifting of the ban will also allow Indonesian soldiers to participate in the International Military Education and Training programme once again.
"With America's cooperation, our military will be able to obtain better weapons and engage in better training," said Mr Yudhoyono who is on state visit to India.
Indonesia is eager to obtain spare parts from the US so that its fighter jets could fly again. The shortage of spare parts as a result of the ban had affected the Indonesian Air Force's ability to fly relief supplies to Aceh and North Sumatra after the region was hit by a tsunami on Dec 26.
Apart from modernisation and reform of the Indonesian military, the US statement also promised help to the Indonesians in maritime security and disaster relief.
The Indonesian government is hoping for some fast action. "Now that the decision has been made, we hope Washington can move swiftly to implement it," said a presidential spokesman.
* US lifts six-year ban on arms sales to Jakarta (The Straits Times, Nov 24)
* US lilfts lethal arms ban for RI (The Jakarta Post, Nov 24)
* US restores military ties as a reward for Indonesia (Media Indonesia, Nov 23)