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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 January, 2005, 17:08 GMT
Straw defends Gurkha help offer
Gurkha troops
Ghurkas battled Indonesian forces in Borneo for four years in the 1960s
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has defended Britain's offer to send a team of Gurkhas to help with tsunami relief efforts in Indonesia.

Britain's offer to send 120 Gurkhas was turned down by the Indonesian government on Wednesday.

The Gurkhas clashed with Indonesia in the 1960s over the absorption of British Borneo into Malaysia.

Mr Straw denied it had been a mistake to offer assistance from a force which fought Indonesia for four years.

'Good faith'

He told BBC Radio 4's World at One: "It wasn't a mistake to make the offer.

"It was our judgement and the Gurkhas' judgement that the memory of the Gurkhas' controversial involvement in Borneo had long since faded but we have to respect the judgement of the national governments concerned."

He insisted that he had made the offer in "good faith" and that its rejection had not caused any problems with Britain's relationship with Indonesia.

On Wednesday, a Foreign Office spokesman said Indonesia had expressed gratitude but said it did not need more troops and its priority was technical assistance.

However, the UK's offer to send two helicopters instead was accepted, the Ministry of Defence said.

A spokesman said: "The offer was made and they have made an assessment of what they can use and what they need."

'Tremendous'

"They have accepted the idea of the two helicopters, but given the number of infantry soldiers already in the region, they felt further ground troops weren't required," he added.

A Downing Street spokesman said the government was "relaxed" about the decision, saying it was up to the Indonesian government to decide what type of assistance was needed.

He said there were no plans at present to offer the Gurkhas to any of the other stricken countries.

The offer of Gurkha help came as Mr Straw arrived in Indonesia for a special summit meeting on the disaster which was held on Thursday.

The Indonesian Embassy has thanked Britain for its help in the wake of the tsunami which is thought to have killed around 94,000 people in the country.

Head of the embassy's disaster task force Dr Pribadi Sutiono said what the British community had done was "tremendous".

"It shows us that Western people do care what other people think and that they are willing to help the people who suffer. It is simply unbelievable."




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