Subject: DPA: Rights groups warn U.S. away from renewing Indonesia military ties

Deutsche Presse-Agentur August 10, 2001

Rights groups warn U.S. away from renewing Indonesia military ties


Human rights activists called Friday on the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush to refrain from renewing direct military ties with Indonesia, which they said would undermine political reform efforts in the struggling nation.

Disturbed by recent comments from Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld indicating he was in favour of rebuilding formerly close ties with the Indonesian armed forces, two Indonesian human rights groups submitted letters to Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell urging that sanctions be maintained.

Rumsfeld said during a recent trip to Australia that he felt it would be beneficial to renew military ties with Jakarta, which the U.S. Congress largely suspended in 2000 after Indonesian troops attacked civilians in East Timor following the region's 1998 vote for independence.

"I am anxious to re-establish military-to-military relationships with Indonesia," Rumsfeld said. "We have some congressional limitations at the moment, which I would hope we'd be able to work through over the coming period."

Representatives of the Indonesian Human Rights Network and the East Timor Action Network said there is momentum in Washington to restore full military ties since last month's peaceful installment of President Megawati Sukarnoputri in Jakarta.

"It is vital that the U.S. maintain its suspension of military relations with Indonesia," said John Miller, spokesman for the East Timor group. "The Indonesian government and armed forces have yet to meet any of the conditions established by Congress governing renewal of ties."

"Megawati has developed close relations with the military and is more likely to give it a freer hand," he said.

Miller noted that Indonesian troops have killed 45 people in strife-plagued Aceh province since Megawati became president two weeks ago.

Kurt Biddle, the Washington representative for the Indonesian Human Rights Network, said the Pentagon is working to schedule a high-level visit of Indonesian military officials to Washington.

"Nothing has changed as far as human rights are concerned - now is not the time to reward this brutal force," Biddle said.

The Pentagon said it has not stepped up military-to-military contacts with Indonesia since Megawati became president although Washington was pleased that the armed forces had remained on the sidelines during the recent political crisis in Jakarta.

"We don't believe the change in government has impacted our relationship with Indonesia's military," Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Commander Jeff Davis said.

After the East Timor atrocities, the U.S. Congress banned direct military aid in training or financing until Indonesia fully accounts for human rights abuses in the former Portuguese colony. "We do not believe the Indonesian government has fulfilled the conditions of that legislation," Davis said.

However, other exchanges have continued, primarily dealing with how militaries can respond to humanitarian crises, Davis said.

"The military is historically a pivotal institution in Indonesia, with the potential to support or subvert the country's democratization, so we feel it is important to maintain contacts with them even while we deplore human rights abuses and insist on accounting for them," Davis said. 

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