The Prague Post
February 13, 2002
Kavan offers weapons to
Human rights groups say Prague should demand limits on use
By Michael Mainville, Staff Writer
On his recent visit to Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, Foreign Minister Jan Kavan praised the south Asian nation for its support of the United States and NATO following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He applauded Jakarta’s leaders for quickly condemning the unprecedented attacks, in which Islamic extremists flew hijacked planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, leaving more than 3,000 dead. And he called Indonesia the Czech Republic’s “most reliable partner” and “a stabilizing factor” in the Asia-Pacific region.
But Kavan’s visit was about more than diplomatic niceties. He was also seeking to boost trade with Jakarta and its powerful general staff, offering a wide range of military hardware, including L-39 training jets, machine guns and bulletproof vests. “I wanted to raise the discussion of cooperation in defense industries,” Kavan told The Jakarta Post. “The Czech Republic has had a long tradition in defense industries, ranging from small equipment to aircraft.”
For international human rights groups, the idea that the Czech Republic would barter arms with Indonesia is worrisome. “It would send a signal that the international community and the Czech government is happy to endorse the - military when it is not under effective civilian control,” said Lisa Misol of Human Rights Watch, which has criticized Czech arms deals in the past. She said the Indonesian military had not been held accountable for alleged atrocities against political opponents.
The United States and the European Union imposed an embargo on arms sales to Indonesia in 1999, after a Jakarta-backed militia killed hundreds in East Timor following an independence referendum. The EU, which the Czech Republic hopes to join in 2004, dropped its ban in early 2000. The United States maintains a limited embargo, providing only non-offensive equipment and spare parts. East Timor is now an independent state, but Indonesia still faces criticism for failing to hold top military officials accountable for alleged abuses. The military has also been criticized for its handling of other regional insurgencies, particularly in the northern state of Aceh, where separatist violence has caused more than 6,000 deaths. Misol said that if Prague does approve a deal, it should at the very least attach conditions that would make it more difficult for the weapons to be used for internal repression. “(The Czech government) must insist on getting assurances that these weapons would not get into the hands of units (in disputed regions) and that it also would have the ability to track where these weapons are going,” she said. “Giving a blank check to the Indonesian military would be irresponsible.”
Under communism, Czechoslo-vakia was the world’s seventh -largest arms dealer. The Czech Republic continues to play an important role as a supplier and middleman. Murky deals with Sri Lanka and Yemen have provoked skepticism from human rights groups and even some of the country’s NATO allies. Still, with EU countries also selling weapons to Indonesia, there is little chance Kavan’s move will face domestic opposition. Petr Necas, deputy chairman of the main opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS), said he considered such sales legitimate, as long as the Czech Republic followed international standards. “I don’t see any reason why the Czech Republic should not follow the same procedures as the EU,” he said. During his visit, Kavan held talks with President Megawati Sukarno-putri and other Indonesian officials. He also chatted with business leaders in Surabaya, the country’s third-largest city, about importing 5,000 Skodas for use as taxis. Kavan’s visit was part of a Feb. 1-10 tour of Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore to boost bilateral relations and promote trade. Kavan is a candidate for UN General Assembly president and will need substantial support from developing countries to win the post. That makes some of his political opponents suspicious that Kavan is campaigning at taxpayers’ expense. “Sometimes it looks like Mr. Kavan’s main goal is promoting his UN chairmanship, not the interests of the Czech Republic,” Necas said.
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Republic of Indonesia
Population: 225 million
Major languages: Indonesian, English, Dutch, Javanese Chief religions: Muslim 87 percent, Protestant 6 percent Area: A 13,500-island archipelago southeast of the Asian mainland Government: Megawati Sukarnoputri became president in 2001, after Parliament dismissed Abdurrahman Wahid over financial scandals.
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