Jakarta – The United States should set aside human-rights concerns and go ahead with the delayed sale of F-16 warplanes to Indonesia, former Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell was quoted as saying yesterday. The retired General Powell, on a tour of Asia, said human rights "should not be an overwhelming element in US arms sales", according to extracts from a speech carried by the Indonesian press.
He also criticised calls from two American congressmen that Washington halt aid because of Indonesia's clampdown on the opposition, saying such "punitive acts" would not be useful.
The US government wants to sell Indonesia nine F-16 fighter jets which were originally purchased by Pakistan in a deal blocked over Islamabad's nuclear policy.
However, the US Congress also blocked the sale to Indonesia because of its human-rights record and suppression of the opposition.
"I support the sale of the F-16s. Arms sales to Indonesia should be based on the entire agenda of issues between the United States and Indonesia, not on one single issue," said Gen Powell.
His comments came as Mr John Shattuck, US Undersecretary of State Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, arrived in troubled East Timor on a fact-finding trip which would include talks with Nobel laureate Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo.
The sale would be in line with US policy of providing weapons that can be used to defend against an external threat, but not against domestic opposition, Gen Powell said.
He has also said that the US bore responsibility for the controversy over Asian campaign contributions.
"The problem was not in Asia but in the US," he said. "What we should do is fix the way we finance our political campaigns and do it in such a way that it does not result in Asia-bashing." – AFP.