Subject: WP/IHT: Jakarta Links U.S. Embargo to Unrest

The Washington Post (articles also appears in today's International Herald Tribune, under heading: 'Jakarta Links U.S. Embargo to Unrest') Wednesday, July 5, 2000

Official in Jakarta Criticizes U.S. Ban

Photo: Christian Ambonese board a large ferry from a smaller boat as they try to flee sectarian fighting between Christians and Muslims in Indonesia. (Reuters)

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran Washington Post Foreign Service

JAKARTA, Indonesia, July 4 – A U.S. embargo on the sale of military equipment to Indonesia, enacted after widespread human rights abuses in East Timor last year, is hindering the ability of the country's armed forces to quell spreading sectarian violence in other parts of the Indonesian archipelago, the nation's defense minister said today.

The embargo, which has prevented the Indonesian government from buying spare parts for its U.S.-made aircraft and ships, has forced the military to pull out of service several cargo planes and patrol boats that commanders had hoped to use in the Moluccas Islands, where a bloody religious war has claimed more than 3,000 lives in the past 18 months, Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono said in an interview.

"We are in a very tenuous situation now," Sudarsono said. "There is a lot of equipment that we need that is not working."

Among the planes that have been grounded are five of the country's eight C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft, which are used to ferry troops and supplies.

"The United States should not look at military transport planes only as a means of transporting troops to suppress dissent," Sudarsono said. "They have an important role in providing supplies in emergency situations, whether it's a man-made or a natural disaster."

The Indonesian government declared a state of emergency last week in the Moluccas, the picturesque archipelago once known as the Spice Islands, which has been wracked by fierce fighting between Muslim and Christian gangs armed with lethal homemade weapons. In the past two weeks, more than 200 people have been killed in street battles and savage nighttime massacres. As many as 480 others, many of them Christian refugees fleeing the violence, are believed to have drowned when their overloaded ferry capsized during a storm on Thursday.

The conflict has escalated in recent weeks largely because of the arrival of several thousand heavily armed Muslim fighters from other parts of Indonesia who are committed to waging what they believe is a holy war against Christians.

For months, government officials and religious leaders in the Moluccas have accused the military of doing little to stop the fighting and, in some cases, of actively taking sides in the battles. In response to the criticism, the armed forces chief recently named a Hindu colonel from Bali to be the regional commander and has pledged to replace many of the local troops with soldiers from other parts of the country, who would be more likely to intervene in an impartial way.

But Sudarsono said such a troop replacement will be slowed by a lack of transport aircraft. "Planes are important for immediate relief," he said.

U.S. officials acknowledge that the embargo has had a significant impact on the Indonesian military, which relies on U.S. logistics support for 70 percent of its modern equipment, but the officials contend that out-of-service aircraft and ships are not preventing troops from taking basic steps to bring the situation in the Moluccas under control.

"This is by no means the real issue in the Moluccas," said U.S. Ambassador Robert S. Gelbard. "The real issue has been that over the last six months, the government has been unwilling to take strong, firm and clear action to stop the violence. This includes stopping outsiders from going in and having security forces go house to house to confiscate weapons."

The arms embargo and a suspension of military ties with Indonesia were mandated by Congress last fall after militias backed by the Indonesian armed forces rampaged through East Timor killing hundreds of people in response to the territory's overwhelming vote for independence. Before the ties and arms sales can be resumed, Indonesia must fulfill several requirements, including bringing military leaders responsible for the violence to trial and cracking down on militia members who are preventing tens of thousands of East Timorese refugees in Indonesian-controlled western Timor from returning home.

Thus far, though, U.S. officials say the Indonesian government has not taken strong steps to contain the militias. Last month, militia fighters armed with automatic weapons and hand grenades crossed the border separating western Timor and East Timor to attack Australian peacekeepers. Of particular concern to the United States and to the U.N. officials who now govern East Timor is a plan advanced by local Indonesian government officials to allow militia members to settle 20 miles from the border.

Sudarsono said that with the crisis in the Moluccas, along with tense separatist movements in the provinces of Aceh and West Papua, there is little political support in Jakarta to commit additional troops or resources to western Timor.

"My ministry is overstretched and undermanned and underfunded," he said. "East Timor comes down at number four in the order of priorities now."

Despite the lack of progress on the Timor issue, officials at the State Department and the Pentagon are quietly urging key members of Congress to enact legislation that would give the White House the ability to resume Indonesian arms sales and military ties without having to obtain congressional approval.

Although Timor remains a sore point, U.S. officials have been heartened by some of the military reforms taken by Indonesia's democratically elected government, including removing some of the senior officers under investigation for the East Timor massacres and imposing civilian control over the armed forces.

In what appears to be a step in the direction of resuming military ties, the Defense Department invited Indonesian observers to U.S. military exercises in Thailand in May. The Pentagon also is planning to conduct small-scale joint exercises with the Indonesian navy later this month.

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