Indonesia rejects British Gurkha deployment offer

Prasun Sonwalkar

London, January 6:

British PM Tony Blair’s offer to Indonesia to send a company of Royal Gurkhas to assist in the post-tsunami reconstruction efforts has been rejected.

Political sources said this has caused some embarrassment to Blair. The offer was considered ill-advised, given the history of British engagement with Indonesia. The Gurkhas were the main force deployed by the British against Indonesian forces who tried to take over Brunei in the early 1960s, fighting off a series of incursions.

Blair’s gaffe was made worse by the fact that the troops on offer were from the second Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles, which, as a result of its service, is still funded by the Sultan of Brunei to defend his country.

He made the troops offer after chairing the daily meeting of the government’s South-East Asia emergency committee. The Indonesian embassy in London questioned why he should want to send troops to Aceh when medical help and cash were urgently needed. “What happened in Aceh is a pure humanitarian issue,” an embassy spokesman said. “Indonesia does not want to make it look like a military issue. If the British government wants to help, it should send doctors not troops.” In his first media appearance since the catastrophe, Blair told Radio 4 Today the government was doing everything it could and it would outstrip the “immensely generous” donations from the public, now over £76 million.