|US and Indonesia's military: Bedfellows
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
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
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
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
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.
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."
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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