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South Africa and Indonesia to boost economic ties

Xinhua - November 13, 1997

Johannesburg – South Africa and Indonesia are set to boost economic ties with the signing of two agreements on aviation and trade, South African Press Association reported today.

The two accords will be signed when Indonesian President Soeharto arrives in Cape Town next week for a state visit.

An air services agreement would facilitate direct air links between the two countries, while a trade agreement would provide for a joint economic commission, Foreign Ministry officials said in a briefing.

From almost a zero base in the last five years, two-way trade between the two countries has grown to 1.21 billion Rand (252 million U.S. dollars) with the balance in South Africa's favor.

Economic relations between the two countries, however, is still being hampered by the absence of direct transport links and a lack of formal agreements to facilitate economic cooperation.

So far only one agreement on the avoidance of double taxation has been signed.

While media interest is bound to focus on Mandela's bid to have jailed East Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao released, South African government officials have stressed that bilateral and multilateral issues will dominate the agenda.

Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo said he hoped to receive a briefing from his Indonesian counterpart, Ali Alatas, on regional peace efforts in Cambodia and the recent currency damage suffered by countries in Southeast Asia.

South Africa, as the next chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, would discuss multilateral issues with Indonesia, a founding member of the body who held its chair from 1992 till 1996.

On whether Indonesia was interested in buying arms from South Africa, Nzo said he was not aware of any proposed deal.

However, he echoed Mandela's statement in Jakarta that under certain circumstances South Africa could supply arms to Indonesia for defensive purposes.

Nzo defended South Africa's relations with Indonesia, saying his country would have more influence on the question of East Timor through dialogue.

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, was annexed by Indonesia in 1976.

But the United Nations does not recognize Indonesia's sovereignty over the territory and still recognizes Portugal as its legitimate administrator.

It is currently sponsoring talks between Portugal and Indonesia in the hope of finding an internationally acceptable solution to the dispute.

After his return from a state visit to Jakarta, Mandela wrote to Soeharto calling for Gusmao's release, but received no reply.

He is expected to make the appeal personally when he meets Soeharto, who is scheduled to visit South Africa from November 20 to 22.