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Paul Wolfowitz's Indonesia amnesia
By Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON - Reports that the administration of US president George W Bush has decided to release funds that will permit it to train Indonesian military officers, despite a recent vote by a key Senate committee that calls for training to be suspended until the army's role in the killing of two US teachers in West Papua is clarified, has drawn strong expressions of concern on the part of human rights groups here.

Neither the Pentagon nor the State Department would confirm that a final decision has been made. However, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who monitor Indonesia closely said they understand that senior defense officials, including, notably, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a former US ambassador to Indonesia, have decided to go ahead.

Wolfowitz has long argued that US military re-engagement with the Indonesian military (TNI) should be an urgent priority in the US-led "war on terrorism" and that it can help improve the armed forces' human-rights performance, a contention with which rights organizations and many Indonesia analysts strongly disagree.

"For over three decades, the US and Indonesian militaries were extremely close and we saw no move to reform," said Ed McWilliams, a former State Department officer who served as political counselor in the US Embassy in Jakarta from 1996-99 when military relations were suspended after TNI-organized militias went on a rampage in East Timor.

The violence, in which more than 1,000 Timorese were killed and tens of thousands more displaced, prompted the intervention of an Australian-led multinational force and eventually East Timor's independence from Indonesia.

"The TNI's worst abuses took place when we were most engaged," McWilliams said.

While the amount of funds for Indonesia's participation in the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program comes to a mere US$400,000, activists argue that resuming training now would be seen in Indonesia as a strong endorsement of TNI at a critical moment.

A State Department spokesman told Inter Press Service that it "has not yet completed consultations" with US lawmakers as required under the 2003 IMET appropriation. He denied that any final decision has been made.

Congressional sources confirmed they understand that the administration wants to provide the training but that it has not yet sat down with key lawmakers to explain why.

"They know it will be an unpleasant experience when they come up here," said one aide who acknowledged that the administration could go ahead despite congressional opposition if it wished.

The TNI is currently engaged in its largest counter-insurgency operation against secessionist rebels in Aceh since its invasion of East Timor in 1975, and reports out of the gas-rich province in northern Sumatra since its launch in mid-May have spurred growing concerns about the level of serious abuses against the civilian population there.

On Monday, the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) in Geneva became the latest international human-rights group to voice its "deep concern" about the situation there, particularly in light of the failure of the global media to follow developments in Aceh. It said as many as 1,000 civilians have been killed and 40,000 more have been forced to flee their homes.

"The latest reports indicate that human rights defenders are being subjected to harassment, arrest [and] torture and face execution for pursuing their activities," it said, while foreign journalists and humanitarian organizations have been prevented from entering the province.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also voiced strong concerns about the counter-insurgency campaign and its impact on civilians in recent weeks. Even Wolfowitz himself complained on a recent trip to Jakarta that no military solution in Aceh was possible and that the government should return to the negotiating table in search of a political settlement.

The TNI has been criticized for similar abuses in West Papua. Last August 31, two US teachers and one Indonesian were killed and another eight US and three Indonesian citizens wounded in an ambush in the mining operations of the Louisiana-based Freeport-McMoRan Cooper and Gold Inc - under circumstances that, according to both Indonesian police and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, implicated the TNI. After two previous FBI trips were hindered by TNI obstruction, Jakarta recently allowed the US agency to return to continue its own investigation.

After a major Pentagon lobbying effort to persuade Congress to renew IMET training for Indonesia after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon to resume military ties with Indonesia, Congress finally authorized $400,000 for IMET training for Indonesia for fiscal year 2003, and it is that money that is now at stake.

In light of the McMoRan ambush, however, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted in May to condition all IMET aid for Indonesia in fiscal year 2004, which begins October 1, on Jakarta's "taking effective measures" to investigate fully and criminally prosecute those responsible for the killings.

"The release of the IMET funds now would only cause people to question America's commitment to its own citizens' safety," Patricia Lynn Spier, who was seriously wounded and her husband killed in the ambush, said on Monday. "The FBI must be allowed to complete its investigation of the attack on me and others at the Freeport mine. No military assistance should be provided unless the Indonesian military is deemed innocent."

The Pentagon, however, is particularly eager to renew ties with Indonesian military officers as part of the "war on terrorism", in which Washington hopes the TNI will play a key role. Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population, and last year's bombing of a nightclub in Bali apparently persuaded both President Megawati Sukarnoputri and other senior government officials that radical Islamists represented a serious threat to the country.

On Monday, a bomb exploded at Indonesia's parliament in what the police called a "terror" attack in which the explosives used were similar to those found in the possession of alleged Islamist militants arrested in Jakarta last week.

The Pentagon persuaded Congress to permit it to provide the TNI with some $4 million in counter-terrorism training and non-lethal equipment last year but has made little secret of its desire to provide more assistance to the Indonesian military, particularly its officer corps.

"I believe exposure of Indonesia officers to US [military personnel] has been a way to promote reform efforts in the military, not to set them back," Wolfowitz said this year.

But other analysts strongly disagree, noting not only the brutal record of the TNI when it was most closely engaged with the United States during the 30-some years of the former dictator Suharto's rule, but also the concern that the military will use its return to the IMET program to trumpet its return to international respectability when, in fact, it has done nothing to deserve it.

"Rather than teach democratic values, the Indonesian military will see IMET as a US endorsement of business as usual," said Kurt Biddle, coordinator of the Indonesia Human Rights Network (IHRN). "Since the administration has actively sought to restore military assistance, the Indonesian military has sabotaged international efforts to attain justice for crimes against humanity committed in East Timor, exonerated itself of last year's murder of two US teachers, and undermined a US-backed ceasefire in Aceh."

Rights groups have been particularly outraged at the treatment accorded Major-General Adam Damiri, who is leading the counter-insurgency campaign in Aceh. Damiri has been charged with crimes against humanity in connection with the havoc in East Timor in 1999 but missed several days of his trial in May in order to help prepare the TNI for its assault on Aceh.

"There has been no meaningful progress towards reform of the military or the ending of impunity" since the East Timor violence, according to a statement signed last month by some 90 human-rights, peace, and church groups around the world who called for an international military embargo against Jakarta.

After the mayhem in East Timor, the US Congress conditioned the resumption of military-to-military relations with the TNI on Indonesia punishing those military officers who were responsible and taking other steps to secure civilian control over the military and end its impunity. But Congress relaxed those conditions as a result of Pentagon pressure after the September 11 attacks.

(Inter Press Service)
Jul 18, 2003

Fear, pain and shame in Aceh
(Jul 2, '03)

Jakarta offensive in Aceh drags on
(Jun 27, '03)

Aceh: Echoes of East Timor
(Jun 12, '03)

Indonesia's gold standard
(Sep 7, '02)
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