Southeast Asia

US and Indonesia's military: Bedfellows again?
By Tim Shorrock

WASHINGTON - The killings last August of two Americans, allegedly at the hands of Indonesian soldiers with the apparent consent of the high command, haven't dampened enthusiasm within the Bush administration and the US business community for closer US ties with the Indonesian military.

Nearly three months after the contract teachers for Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc died in an ambush near the world's largest gold mine in Papua, the administration of US President George W Bush has said very little about the incident beyond expressing an interest in finding the perpetrators of the deed.

Freeport itself - which has had a long and close relationship with the Indonesia military - has yet to comment publicly on the allegations about military involvement in the deaths of its own employees. And the largest business lobby in Washington for Indonesian investors, the US-ASEAN Business Council, continues to push for upgraded ties with the Indonesian military, which is widely known by its Indonesian abbreviation TNI.

Yet strong evidence from the Indonesian police, backed by reports from Papuan human-rights groups, indicates that the shooting was the work of Kopassus, the Indonesian Special Forces. It has been implicated in several other killings and disappearances, including the murder last year of Theys Eluay, a tribal chief who led Papua's independence movement.

In addition, intelligence intercepts provided by Australia to US officials in Jakarta reportedly indicate that senior Indonesian generals discussed the attack before it happened, according to information first reported by the Washington Post and the Sydney Morning Herald.

The administration's leading expert on Indonesia, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, told the Post that the Freeport incident shouldn't be used as an excuse to retain the congressional ban on US training and aid for the TNI. The ban was imposed in 1991 after an Indonesian military massacre in East Timor and severed completely after the military-led rampage in that nation in 1999.

While calling the reports of military involvement "disturbing", Wolfowitz told the Post that closer US ties with the TNI would give Indonesian officers "more contact with the West and with the United States". He added that "moving them in a positive direction is important both to support democracy in Indonesia and to support the fight against terrorism. Unfortunately we've been isolating them for a decade. It's not a policy that's working."

Opponents of increased US aid reject that logic. "They had that kind of relationship over three decades and we saw no move to reform," said Ed McWilliams, a former State Department official who served as a political counselor in the US Embassy in Indonesia during the 1990s. The Freeport killings "should be a quandary [for the administration] but I'm not sure it is." McWilliams said he was especially disturbed by the Indonesian military denials of involvement and its attempts to pin the killing on a Papuan separatist group. "What we're seeing is a coverup," he said.

An official with the US-ASEAN Business Council said US companies favored closer ties. "Engagement is good," John Fips, the council's point-man on Indonesia and Singapore, told Asia Times Online. "If we don't have good relations, how will we affect their actions?" But Fips added that reports about senior military involvement in the attack "would be extra troubling ... I think there's concern about the developments in Papua".

The US administration is certain to face a barrage of questions from Congress when it moves again next year to reinvigorate US ties with the Indonesian military.

For starters, lawmakers are going to want to know what the Federal Bureau of Investigation has learned about the Freeport killings. Shortly after the ambush, several FBI agents were dispatched to Jakarta to investigate the ambush. During their stay, they conducted extensive interviews, including a three-hour session with John Rumbiak, who runs the Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy based in Papua and conducted the initial investigation of the Freeport incident. The FBI has also interviewed survivors of the Freeport attack who are back in the United States.

Rumbiak, who is now living in North America after receiving death threats in Indonesia, said he met with the FBI on September 25 after briefing the US Embassy on his findings. "I told them this is the military masterminding these attacks," he said. Rumbiak, who spent several weeks in Papua investigating the incident, said he believes Indonesian military officers ordered the attack so they could blame it on the guerrillas in the hopes that the United States would label the Papuan dissidents a terrorist group. "The idea was, that would speed up the discussions in Washington, DC, on US-TNI relations," he said.

Senator Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who wrote the 1991 amendment ending Indonesia's role in the US International Military and Educating Training program (IMET), recently signaled his interest in the Freeport case. Last month, he told the Financial Times that any resumption of US military aid to Jakarta was contingent on solving the killings in Papua.

He called the TNI a "corrupt, abusive institution that has a long history of killing civilians and lying about it. The fact that they apparently believed they could murder two Americans in broad daylight and get away with it illustrates the extent of the impunity."

Human-rights groups also plan to draw attention to the upcoming trials of two women who were arrested in September in Aceh for violating their tourist visas by meeting with members of the Free Aceh separatist movement as well as the recent acquittals in Jakarta of four officials charged with crimes against humanity during the 1999 violence in East Timor.

The campaign to head off US aid comes on top of a string of terrorist attacks widely seen as the work of al-Qaeda sympathizers, including last week's bombings of a McDonald's in Sulawesi and the October attack in Bali that killed over 180 people.

The Bush administration, backed by US business groups with investments in Indonesia, have seized on the Bali bombings as justification for resuming the close military ties with Jakarta.

Last August, during a visit to Jakarta, Secretary of State Colin Powell announced a US$50 million, three-year anti-terrorism assistance package to Indonesia. The administration won a partial victory a few weeks later, when both the House and Senate appropriations committees approved spending bills restoring IMET for Indonesia. But this year's session ended without a full vote on the measure, so the Leahy amendment remains in force.

(©2002 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact content@atimes.com for information on our sales and syndication policies.)
 
Dec 10, 2002



Indonesian military makes political comeback (Oct 29, '02)

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