Subject: IHT: U.S. on Path to Restoring Military Ties to Indonesia

International Herald Tribune Saturday, April 1, 2000

U.S. on Path to Restoring Military Ties to Indonesia

Admiral to Seek Pledge on Abuses and Refugees

By Michael Richardson International Herald Tribune

SINGAPORE - The United States is moving toward restoring full military ties with Indonesia that were cut in September when hard-liners in the Indonesian Army were accused of supporting a campaign of killing, destruction and forced movement of people by militia gangs after East Timor voted for independence. The commander in chief of U.S. forces in the Pacific, Admiral Dennis Blair, said Friday that progress toward resuming military links with Indonesia had been made, adding that he would go Jakarta on Sunday to discuss what more needed to be done before a full military relationship could be resumed.

''My visit signifies that we are at least within talking range of it,'' he told a small group of reporters in Singapore. ''Some progress has been definitely made.''

In the violence after East Timor rejected continued Indonesian rule, 250,000 East Timorese - nearly half the estimated population - fled or were forced across the border into West Timor, which remains part of Indonesia.

The United Nations, which is now preparing East Timor for statehood, estimates that 149,000 of these people have returned since October.

But on a visit Friday to Jakarta, the head of the UN transitional administration in East Timor, Sergio Vieira de Mello, called on the Indonesian government not to disrupt the return process by halting the delivery of food and other aid to the remaining 100,000 East Timorese still in camps in West Timor.

Some Indonesian officials have reportedly said that the aid would be halted March 31 because Indonesia could no longer afford to feed the refugees and the assistance acted as a magnet that prevented those who wanted to return to East Timor from doing so.

However, Mr. de Mello said that the main obstacle to the free repatriation of displaced East Timorese was the activity of militia extremists who continued to harass them and spread lies about the situation in East Timor to deter potential returnees.

He said that President Abdurrahman Wahid of Indonesia pledged in a meeting Thursday that Indonesia would act to prevent such abuses.

After the talks with officials in Jakarta on Sunday, Admiral Blair will fly on Tuesday to Dili, capital of East Timor. He was last in Indonesia in September to inform the government that President Bill Clinton was about to cut military ties because of the abuses in East Timor.

Admiral Blair said Friday that there were two primary areas in which the United States needed to see progress by Indonesia before military ties, including sale of American equipment and the provision of spare parts, could be restored.

He said the first was accountability for the ''very bad behavior'' by elements of the Indonesian military who were in East Timor when the independence vote took place.

Mr. Wahid last month removed General Wiranto, armed forces commander at the time of the vote, from his post as coordinating minister for security after an Indonesian inquiry named him and dozens of other officers and militia leaders as suspects in the East Timor human rights abuses.

Admiral Blair said that progress was also needed in ''taking care of the refugee population in West Timor, ensuring that those who want to go back to East Timor do go back and that those who are left are moved into a more permanent situation so that you don't have a breeding ground for this militia activity which works its way across the border into East Timor.''

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