Subject: LATimes: Indonesia Plan Irks US Democrats

The Los Angles Times July 31, 2001

THE WORLD Indonesia Plan Irks Democrats

Asia: The White House is considering rewarding military for peaceful power shift. Members of Congress object.


WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is considering resuming sales of military equipment to Indonesia's sometimes brutal armed forces. But officials in the administration and on Capitol Hill said Monday that the plan has generated strong opposition from Democrats in Congress.

The plan, which goes well beyond steps that were announced last month, is designed to reward the Indonesian military for playing a constructive role in the country's peaceful transition of power last week, the officials said.

Capitol Hill sources said the administration is preparing a package of measures, including the sale of nonlethal military equipment; port calls by U.S. ships; and a visit to Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, by Adm. Dennis Blair, commander in chief of U.S. forces in the Pacific. But an aide to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said that if the administration goes ahead with the proposal, it could touch off a bitter fight with Congress.

The Clinton administration cut U.S. military ties to Indonesia in 1999 during violent upheavals in the province of East Timor. Some members of the armed forces were accused of helping armed militias that killed hundreds of civilians in the province and drove more than 200,000 people from their homes. The militias were trying to prevent East Timor from becoming an independent state, but they ultimately failed to stop the territory from severing its ties with Indonesia.

In June, the administration told Congress that it intended to resume lower-level contacts with the Indonesian military. Some human rights groups protested, but the step was endorsed by congressional leaders.

Late last week, after the military permitted Indonesia's highest legislative assembly to oust President Abdurrahman Wahid and replace him with Megawati Sukarnoputri, the State Department told Congress that it was considering additional steps to demonstrate its approval of the armed forces' restraint.

But the Leahy aide said it was too soon to go beyond the earlier package. Leahy, chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, is the leading congressional critic of the Indonesian military. He sponsored legislation that currently prohibits U.S. military sales or training for Indonesia until the armed forces cooperate with the prosecution of military personnel accused of abuses in East Timor. The administration's proposal would require that ban to be changed.

"It isn't appropriate for the United States to reward the Indonesian military for simply obeying the constitution," said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "The administration has said that this is what it wants to do. But they also know that if they ignore the Congress, there will be a price to pay."

A House staffer confirmed that administration officials have informed lawmakers of the plan.

Both Capitol Hill and administration officials said the plan is still in the consultation phase and that no final decisions have been made.

"The key word is 'considering,' " an administration official said.

Nevertheless, the plan has gone far enough to generate opposition.

"This sends exactly the wrong signal," said Sidney Jones, Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch. "Just as the number of human rights violations [by the Indonesian military] are increasing by leaps and bounds, this is extremely premature."

The United States maintained extensive ties with the Indonesian military during much of the tenure of former President Suharto, who was toppled three years ago. Those relations were cut back sharply in 1991 when government forces shot and killed peasants and activists demonstrating for independence in East Timor.

After that, Congress began to impose restrictions on the relationship. However, the Pentagon continued to provide some training for Indonesian forces until 1999, when violence erupted in East Timor after the territory voted for independence. On Sept. 9, 1999, President Clinton issued an executive order that severed all military ties.

Supporters of a renewed military relationship say the United States must have access to the generals and admirals who lead the strongest institution in Indonesia and the only one capable of unifying the country.

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