MPs to back controversial Dutch naval deal
11 February 2004
AMSTERDAM — Despite claims from Indonesian sources that a Dutch shipyard might miss out on a contract to supply Jakarta with four navy frigates, political obstacles in the Netherlands standing in the way of the deal started to fall away on Wednesday.
The Lower House of Parliament, the Tweede Kamer, was scheduled to discuss on Wednesday whether it would grant a weapon export permit for the EUR 1 billion contract, a matter that has met with political objections because Indonesia is still at war with separatists in Aceh.
Various Dutch MPs have raised concerns about the sale, but Foreign Minister Ben Bot said on Wednesday that if an export permit is approved, no conditions will be placed on the use of the ships.
The minister’s comments come after earlier concerns about the possible wartime use of the frigates. But both Bot and Economic Affairs Minister Laurens Jan Brinkhorst are not opposed to the deal because they are confident the ships will be used to secure important shipping routes.
The Cabinet and a large parliamentary majority — made up of government parties the Christian Democrat CDA and Liberal VVD, plus opposition party PvdA — are also in favour of allowing Dutch shipyard De Schelde to proceed with the contract.
An export permit is required though because Indonesia is classified an area of tension and opposition parties Socialist Party and green-left GroenLinks remain strongly opposed to the sale. Government coalition party Democrat D66 is also unenthused about the deal.
Indonesia is involved in a bloody battle to maintain control of the province of Aceh, which has been promised elections this year to form an autonomous government.
Placed under martial law in May 2003, the Indonesian military launched a crackdown against separatist rebels in Aceh and Human Rights Watch has raised concerns about human rights abuses in the province.
The Indonesian military ordered the four frigates from the Vlissingen-based De Schelde yard at the end of 2003 and Indonesian MP Djoko Susilo said that Indonesia will use the ships to combat smugglers, illegal wood traders and if necessary, terrorists.
But human rights organisations are sceptical that Indonesia will use the ships to patrol its borders. On the contrary, Indonesian activist Johnson Panjaitan said the nation’s military is involved in car smuggling, the transport of illegal timber and the “stealing of fish”.
Meanwhile, an Indonesian military commission has demanded from the South East Asian nation’s Parliament answers about the contract to purchase the navy frigates from the Netherlands.
Indonesian legislation states that weapons may only be imported with permission from the Defence Minister, who cannot transfer his or her authority.
MP Susilo is not aware whether the minister has transferred authority, pointing out that there is a temporary contract, but that a definite version has not yet been signed. But a Radio 1 report indicated on Wednesday that a contract has been reportedly signed by a military commander, breaching Indonesian law.
An Indonesian Defence Ministry spokesman said that the contract with De Schelde has received approval from the defence minister, but he also advised the Dutch shipyard to not open the bottle of champagne just yet, Dutch daily newspaper Trouw reported.
In order to buy the small frigates, Indonesia will need to obtain foreign credit. But the Finance Ministry is not yet prepared to approve the credit application and the defence ministry spokesman said there is still a long road ahead.
Behind the back of the Dutch shipyard, both China and Italy have launched strong lobbying to obtain the contract, with Susilo confirming that the offer from Italy is slightly cheaper than the Dutch bid.
“They are using the confusion that has arisen around the contract and the illness of the minister,” the MP said.
On condition of anonymity, an Indonesian MP from the defence commission has predicted that the Netherlands will lose the contract. Meanwhile, Taufik Kiemas, the husband of Indonesian President Megawati has also intervened in the matter and is backing the Italian bid.
Military expert Salim Said will not be surprised if the Netherlands loses the contract. Said revealed that various countries have opened offices in the Indonesian capital Jakarta for their salespeople, who are lobbying the parliament and military headquarters.
Said claimed the “administrative problem” in the contract with De Schelde could be used end the deal with the Netherlands.
And the depth to which Indonesia will campaign to continue the fragile relationship with De Schelde also depends on parliamentary discussions in The Hague on Wednesday.
Indonesia is reportedly fed up with “moaning” from countries such as the Netherlands and Britain. The British supplied fighter jets to Jakarta, but later complained when they were used to bomb villages in Aceh.
Military expert Said also reacted angrily: “There is a legal war occurring in Aceh. If you are scared to become involved, you’d better not sell more navy ships to us. Don’t meddle with our sovereignty”.
[Copyright Expatica News 2004]
Subject: Dutch news