US to sell 8 Apache attack helicopters to Indonesia

US to sell 8 Apache attack helicopters to Indonesia
Apache helicopters flying over Tahir Square during a protest to support the army in Cairo on July 26, 2013.

JAKARTA - The United States announced Monday it would eight Apache attack helicopters to Jakarta as it seeks to bolster ties with Southeast Asia despite concerns over the Indonesian military's rights record.

Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel disclosed the US$500 million deal -- which includes pilot training and radars -- on a visit to the Indonesian capital, his second stop on a week-long tour of the region.

It is aimed at strengthening military ties as part of the US "pivot" towards the Asia-Pacific amid concern about Beijing's growing assertiveness, but Hagel's attention has been diverted from the trip by a confrontation with Syria.

"Providing Indonesia these world-class helicopters is an example of our commitment to help build Indonesia's military capability," said Hagel after talks with his Indonesian counterpart, Defence Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro.

"A strong Indonesia is good for the region."

A defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, added that the sale of the Apache helicopters -- the first ever to the Indonesian military -- was "prudent to support security in the region".

Officials did not say when the helicopters, which are made by US aircraft maker Boeing, would be delivered.

The US froze defence cooperation and arms sales to Indonesia over concerns about abuses during President Suharto's three-decade rule, which ended in 1998. Military ties were only restored in 2005.

Under Suharto the army's special forces were accused of extrajudicial killings, and the helicopter sale comes despite continued concern about the military's rights record.

The Dutch parliament last year rejected a proposed sale of tanks to Indonesia, its former colony, over human rights concerns.

However Yusgiantoro told reporters on Monday that the armed forces had undergone a process of reform since 1998. "We have changed now."

The sale also comes amid growing concern in Washington about Beijing's assertive stance in South China Sea disputes.

While Indonesia does not have competing claims with Beijing over the sea, like others such as the Philippines, it is a major regional power and is seen as holding a key role in resolving disputes.

Hagel began his Southeast Asia tour last week in Malaysia. After Jakarta, he heads to Brunei on Tuesday for a regional defence gathering that will include China.

On Thursday he flies to the Philippines on his final stop.

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