Subject: RT: Cohen: U.S. urges restraint by Indonesia army
Date: Thu, 30 Jul 1998 17:13:37 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Thursday July 30 2:26 PM EDT Cohen: U.S. urges restraint by Indonesia army
SYDNEY, Australia (Reuters) - The United States is encouraging Indonesia's military to exercise restraint as the embattled Asian country copes with financial meltdown and social unrest, Defense Secretary William Cohen said Thursday.
"We are working with them as best we can, certainly at the economic level and financial level, but also maintaining some military-to-military contacts to encourage the military to exercise the kind of restraint that is going to be necessary in these times of stress," he said.
Cohen was interviewed along with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation "Lateline" television show.
The two U.S. officials are in Sydney for two days of annual talks with their Australian counterparts.
Cohen will then head for talks with government officials in Indonesia Friday, while Albright returns to Washington.
Cohen said that General Wiranto, commander of the Indonesia's armed forces (ABRI), and "others" -- whom he did not specify -- have exercised restraint so far.
"But it is something that we feel very strongly about, that strong consideration has to be given for the protection of human rights and to make sure there is no abuse of military power against the Indonesian people," he said.
So far, Cohen added, "it seems to be a democratic process underway," with new elections scheduled for next spring.
The financial and economic crisis battering Indonesia started in July 1997 when the Thai baht plunged after its flotation, dragging down other regional currencies.
The Indonesian rupiah has lost more than 80 percent of its value, millions of Indonesians have been plunged into poverty and former president Suharto's 32-year rule was ended by rioting.
Indonesian human rights groups have said about 1,200 people were killed -- and more than 150 women raped -- during the May 13-15 riots, which led to Suharto being replaced by his vice-president B.J. Habibie. The new president has promised economic and political reforms, and to hold elections in May next year.
More than 20 activists opposed to Suharto's rule were also kidnapped between late last year and March this year, and 11 soldiers from the Special Forces (Kopassus) have been arrested in connection with this.
Albright, in the same interview, said 100 million -- half the population -- was now living in poverty in Indonesia.
Food distribution is a great problem "and we don't want unrest to come as a result of the lack of food," she said.
U.S. President Bill Clinton has directed that 1.5 million tons of food be delivered to Indonesia, including 500,000 tons now and the other million in segments so as not to upset commodity markets, which is of concern to Australia, Albright said.
Cohen said the important thing was to "get the economics right first (in Indonesia) so that you can have a stable social environment."
"If the economy starts to come back and people feel secure that they are going to be well fed and have an opportunity for prosperity in the future, that will tend to stabilize the situation," he said.
Then, "investors will feel comfortable in coming back to a country that has rule of law and not the law of rule, that has an open transparent type of investment opportunity," Cohen said.