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    Southeast Asia
     Mar 3, 2005
US back in step with Indonesia
By David Isenberg

WASHINGTON - The news that the United States is lifting its ban on military assistance to Indonesia, announced last Friday, reminds one of a famous saying by American writer Gertrude Stein. When Stein returned to California on a lecture tour of the United States in the 1930s, she wanted to visit her childhood home in Oakland. She records that she could not find the house. Hence, "there is no there there".

Much the same could be said about the so-called "ban" on military exports to Indonesia; it has long been apparent that there was less to the ban than meets the eye.

In one of her first acts as secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice decided to restore Indonesia's full International Military Education and Training (IMET) program after determining that authorities in that country now are cooperating with a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) probe into the August 31, 2002 murders of an Indonesian and two American employees of the mining giant Freeport McMoRan during a military-style ambush in Timika, West Papua province.

Once the official certification takes place, Indonesia will be eligible to receive US$600,000 to participate in the IMET program, from which it has been barred since 1992 after army troops massacred peaceful demonstrators in East Timor.

Indonesian cooperation resulted in the June 2004 indictment by a US court of Anthonius Wamang, an Indonesian citizen and member of a Papuan separatist group, on charges of murder, attempted murder, causing serious bodily injury and possessing illegal firearms.

But some outside groups question whether Wamang, who remains at large, is being used as a fall guy to protect those higher up. According to local human-rights defenders, Wamang has extensive ties to the Indonesian military (TNI) as a business partner of Kopassus, the Indonesian army's notorious special forces. In an August 2004 television interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Wamang said he got his ammunition for the attack from TNI personnel, and he has told the FBI and local human-rights groups that these officers knew he was about to carry out an attack on the Freeport concession.

A statement put out by the East Timor Action Network noted, "In recent years Congress has maintained only one condition on full IMET cooperation by Indonesian authorities with an FBI investigation ... but cooperation by Indonesia has been spotty at best. The sole suspect indicted so far by a United States grand jury remains at large in Indonesia. His military links, which appear to be extensive, seem to have hardly been examined. Military stonewalling of the investigation into the ambush will undoubtedly intensify." Notably, Wamang does not face charges in Indonesia.

Rice's action hardly comes as a surprise. After her confirmation hearings, Rice told Congress that the George W Bush administration was "currently evaluating whether to issue the required determination". But she was crystal clear on her position on the training funds. "IMET for Indonesia is in the US interest," she said in a written response to questions posed to her by Senator Joseph Biden, a Democrat from Delaware. The program, she added, will "strengthen the professionalism of military officers, especially with respect to the norms of democratic civil-military relations, such as transparency, civilian supremacy, public accountability and respect for human rights".

Indonesia still has progress to make in the field of human rights, however. According to the State Department's annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, released on Monday:
The [Indonesian] government's human rights record remained poor; although there were improvements in a few areas, serious problems remained. Government agents continued to commit abuses, the most serious of which took place in areas of separatist conflict. Security force members murdered, tortured, raped, beat, and arbitrarily detained civilians and members of separatist movements, especially in Aceh and to a lesser extent in Papua. Some police officers occasionally used excessive and sometimes deadly force in arresting suspects and in attempting to obtain information or a confession. Retired and active duty military officers known to have committed serious human rights violations occupied or were promoted to senior positions in the government and the TNI.
Similarly, last September New York-based Human Rights Watch released a report that found Indonesian security forces in Aceh were systematically torturing detainees suspected of supporting the armed separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

Nevertheless, the decision to restore IMET training also caps a quiet lobbying campaign by top Pentagon officials led by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D Wolfowitz, a former US ambassador to Indonesia who has openly advocated the view that Congressional restrictions on military-to-military contacts with countries such as Indonesia were hurting American interests more than helping them.

In January, Wolfowitz visited tsunami-devastated Aceh province, where more than 120,000 people were killed by the waves. On his return, Wolfowitz urged Congress to re-evaluate the IMET restrictions. "We can have more positive influence that way," he told PBS's Online News Hour.

Australia, which did not completely sever ties with Indonesia in 1999, may use the US decision to speed up the full restoration of its links, including those with the Kopassus special forces. Australian Defense Minister Robert Hill "welcomed" the US decision, a spokeswoman said. Canberra wants to renew counter-terrorism training for the 5,000-strong Kopassus unit, which allegedly backed and covertly armed the pro-Jakarta militia in East Timor.

New Zealand, on the other hand, which like the US also froze military cooperation with Jakarta in 1999, said it was not ready to follow the American lead, because no Indonesian troops had been brought to justice.

"We had mass devastation and multiple killings, but nobody was found to be responsible," Foreign Minister Phil Goff said. "We would like to see those responsible held to account."

The reality of restrictions
Restrictions on the IMET training program first were imposed after the massacre of civilian protestors in Dili, East Timor, in 1992. These restrictions were maintained after Indonesian security forces and militia carried out devastating attacks in East Timor in 1999 in the wake of the August 1999 UN-sponsored independence referendum that left at least 1,500 people dead.

More recently, restrictions imposed by Washington were tied to findings that the Indonesian military had not sufficiently cooperated in investigating the murders in Papua. Certifying that Indonesian authorities were cooperating with the FBI probe was critical, as the US Congress had made cooperation a key condition for Indonesian access to US military training for its officers.

But the reality is that some military relations between Indonesia and the US have been going on without interruption. Even IMET has not been fully frozen. Data on the State Department's website show that Indonesia received $599,000 in IMET funding in fiscal year 2004.

In addition, Indonesian officers have participated in the Counter-terrorism Fellowships Program (CFP) at the National Defense University in Washington, DC. (The CFP for Indonesia is the world's largest. The amount allocated to the program in fiscal year 2004 was $500,000, and $600,000 has been allocated to the program for 2005.)

They also participate in the US Army's Theater Security Cooperation Program. (Indonesian participation has increased from zero events in 2000 to more than 85 events in 2004, and more than 132 events have been programmed for fiscal year 2005).

Training in topics such as human rights and resource management is still available to Indonesian officers through the Expanded IMET program, and non-lethal military equipment for humanitarian purposes, such as relief work after the tsunami, is also already available to Indonesia.

Writing in the Washington Post on February 12, US Senator Patrick Leahy, the architect of the 1999 restrictions, noted, that Indonesia's "inability to participate in the one training program covered by our law is symbolic".

And as an article in the conservative US magazine the Weekly Standard noted, if full IMET is restored, other programs will likely follow, such as the Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET), which was halted by the Bill Clinton administration after revelations that the Pentagon used it to circumvent the congressional ban on IMET funding. In her 2003 book The Mission, the Washington Post's Dana Priest found that the US had held 41 training exercises with the Indonesian military between 1991-98.

Once IMET resumes, there will be only one military restriction left on Indonesia: selling of lethal military equipment. And while legislation currently prohibits the US from selling weapons to Indonesia, that may not continue in the future.

Information entered into the Congressional Record on February 1 regarding the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program noted that while it remains frozen by US government policy, there are still 38 active cases with an FMS balance of $3.5 million. And though Foreign Military Financing and other grant programs, such as eligibility for Excess Defense Articles, remain restricted by legislation, $11.3 million is requested for fiscal year 2006.

As for direct commercial sales, US government policy has established "carve-outs" for specific categories of defense hardware, such as C-130 spare parts, non-lethal equipment, and "safety of use" items for lethal-end equipment, such as propellant cartridges for ejection seats on fighter aircraft. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency released $928,709 from FMS funds in January for tsunami relief/repair of C-130s. In fact, Indonesia has been allowed to buy these parts since 2000, but Indonesian officials repeatedly misrepresented their availability in an effort to get the US to remove all restrictions on weapons sales to Indonesia.

Even though the ban has not been the hardship it was made out to be, Indonesian officials still have lobbied for its removal.

Indonesia's new president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a former general and graduate of the IMET program, sought to clear the way for the lifting of the ban . He recently reshuffled Indonesia's top brass in preparation for US-educated army chief Djoko Santoso to take over the military in place of heir apparent General Ryamizard Ryacudu.

Aside from the longstanding desire on the part of both the US and Indonesian militaries to restore full military relations, the move to restore IMET is also influenced by the Bush administration's "war on terror". Supporters say Indonesia could be a more central ally in fighting terrorist networks, including Southeast Asian groups linked to al-Qaeda.

Many military observers think the Indonesian air force and the navy need to be modernized to boost security in the Malacca Strait, which carries one-third of the world's trade and half of its oil supplies; oil tankers are often said to be a potential terrorist target. Some security forces fear terrorists could hijack a tanker and use it as a floating bomb in a maritime version of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

On top of the issue of military aid, Indonesia is seen in Washington as the model for a moderate Islamic state and a model for other Muslim states as well, a condition that has earned it enthusiastic support among many circles in Washington.

David Isenberg, a senior analyst with the Washington-based British American Security Information Council (BASIC), has a wide background in arms control and national security issues. The views expressed are his own.

(Copyright 2005 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us for information on sales, syndication and republishing.)


US debates new links to Indonesian military  (Jan 19, '05)

Terrorism key in US support for TN  
(Sep 24, '04)

US ban on military training for Indonesia stays (Jan 24, '04)

US Senate blocks Indonesia military aid (Oct 31, '03)

Paul Wolfowitz's Indonesia amnesia 
(Jul 18, '03)

 
 

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