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Indonesia confirms plan to buy German tanks

The Indonesian Defense Ministry has officially confirmed it intends to buy 100 Leopard II tanks from Germany. The order has caused controversy among opposition parties because of concerns about human rights.

While the government in Jakarta has made quite clear that it wishes to buy the hardware, the sensitive arms deal has been treated with classified secrecy in Germany.

However, an Indonesian Defense Ministry spokesman said on Friday that the country's parliament had already approved the purchase of the used tanks, built in the 1980s. Price was an issue that was still subject to negotiation, he said.

"One thing is for sure; the tanks are not expensive," the spokesman said.

Both Germany's Green party and the Left party have emphatically warned against the sale, arguing that the human rights situation in the world's most populous majority Muslim nation leaves much to be desired.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, right, gestures during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left

Agreement on closer military cooperation was reached when Merkel visited Indonesia

Green party chief whip Katja Keul stressed that no weapons should be exported to countries outside NATO and the EU unless there were special security reasons.

"Such special exceptional reasons are not apparent here," she warned.

Concerns over West Papua

The German government itself does not dispute that there are concerns about human rights violations in certain parts of the country.

The deputy parliamentary leader of the Left party, Jan van Aken, went as far as to speak of "serious" violations. "Once the tanks are sold, no one can prevent them from also being used for the suppression of the country's own people," he said.

Of specific concern is the resource-rich West Papua area of the country. Indonesia still maintains a powerful military presence since it annexed the former Dutch colony in 1969, despite giving it greater autonomy in 2001. Estimates suggest that more than 14,000 troops patrol the province.

Merkel visited Indonesia in July, agreeing on closer military cooperation in talks with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. However, the German government said after the meeting that specific arms deals were not discussed.

The nation, an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands with a population of some 240 million, is keen to better equip its armed forces and to build up its own arms industry.

In July, Indonesia pulled out of a $280-million (224 million euro) deal to buy 100 Leopard battle tanks from the Netherlands after delays in getting the Dutch parliament to approve the sale.

The Netherlands' minority government was blocked by the majority of parties in parliament; they opposed the deal because of concerns about Jakarta's human rights record.

rc / msh (AFP, dpa)