Subject: IPS: U.S. Warned Against Full Embrace of Megawati

Inter Press Service July 25, 2001


By Jim Lobe


Human rights groups and independent analysts are warning the U.S. administration against rapidly embracing the new president of Indonesia, Megawati Sukarnoputri, who assumed power after the impeachment yesterday of Abdurrahman Wahid.

They are particularly concerned about Megawati's close ties to the Indonesian military (TNI) and her strong nationalist views, which appear unsympathetic to a more decentralized system that would offer substantial autonomy to restive provinces, particularly Aceh and West Papua, where recent violence has claimed hundreds of lives.

"The military is very close to her and has basically adopted her as a sort of mascot," says Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch and an Indonesia specialist. "We expect that one of the direct results (of Megawati's ascendancy) will be a green light to the military to do whatever it wants on Aceh and Papua and to some extent other areas of conflict."

In some respects, that has already been under way as the military increasingly ignored Wahid. On July 20 the paramilitary police (Brimob), which works with the military, arrested five members of the rebel negotiating team in Aceh at the hotel where they had been meeting their central government counterparts. This was despite Jakarta's assurances that they would be immune while peace talks continued.

U.S. officials, who in recent months have become increasingly concerned about the future of the world's fourth most populous nation, are stressing the bright side of the transition. Speaking in Rome yesterday, President George W. Bush lauded the country for its "commitment to the rule of law and democracy."

"We look forward to working with President Megawati and her team to address Indonesia's challenges of economic reform, peaceful resolution of separatist challenges, and maintaining territorial integrity," he added.

Privately, U.S. officials expressed some relief over Wahid's departure, noting that his struggle to maintain his position had diverted government from pursuing more important issues. While supportive of many of his institutional and political reforms, Washington had grown frustrated by what some here described as Wahid's gratuitous quarrels with both friends and foes -- which made further reform, especially on the economic front, impossible.

U.S. officials are also cautiously optimistic that Megawati will make economic reform -- along lines long urged by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) -- a top priority for her government. They say she is likely to appoint a number of competent and talented technocrats to senior positions.

In the military sphere, however, Washington appears split between the Pentagon, which wants to move swiftly to re-establish close ties with the TNI, and the State Department, which favors a more cautious course, particularly in light of the intensification of repression and violence in both Aceh and West Papua, also known as Irian Jaya.

The United States suspended military aid and training for Indonesia in September 1999 in the wake of a scorched-earth campaign by the TNI and military-backed militias in East Timor after its inhabitants voted overwhelmingly for independence. Two months later, the U.S. Congress enacted the "Leahy conditions," named for Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, which tie the resumption of military aid to several requirements that remain unfulfilled.

Conditions include permitting East Timorese refugees, tens of thousands of whom were abducted to West Timor, to return home safely and prosecuting military and militia personnel responsible for atrocities committed in East Timor and elsewhere in the archipelago. Congress is expected to extend them when it votes on the 2002 foreign-aid bill over the coming week.

Indeed, the State Department has spoken in favor of retaining the conditions on U.S. military aid. "Legislative restrictions on U.S. interaction with the Indonesian military are an important reminder to Indonesia and its military of the importance of human rights issues to the world in general and to the United States in particular," Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Asian Affairs Ralph Boyce told the International Relations Committee of the House of Representatives last week.

At the same time, Boyce, who is slated to be named as Washington's next ambassador to Jakarta, stressed that Washington should step up efforts to train and equip Indonesian police, which was formally separated from the military under Wahid and which, to some extent, has acted as a counterweight to the TNI's influence.

"Dropping tough conditions in the near future would send exactly the wrong message to Indonesia on military reform, the role of the armed forces in society and its conduct in conditions of turmoil, especially in provinces like Aceh and Irian Jaya," according to Harold Crouch, director of the Indonesia Project for the International Crisis Group, an international think tank that deals with conflict resolution.

Pentagon officials, who see the TNI as the only truly national institution that appears to work at the moment, are willing to abide by those conditions for now but are considered likely to test their reach in coming months. Recent military exercises that included Indonesia troops were given unusual prominence by the Pentagon, which is also eager to sell so-called "dual-use" equipment to the TNI. This would include transport aircraft and other goods that have both military and civilian application.

"I think the administration is going to move as rapidly as possible to restore ties to the army," says Jones. "They will do everything short of violating the Leahy conditions by (issuing) executive orders."

Dan Lev, an Indonesia expert at the University of Washington in Seattle, agrees with Jones that the military will likely be given a free hand in Aceh and Papua under Megawati.

"Megawati keeps saying there ought to be a non-violent solution, but the fact of the matter is she's an old-line nationalist who puts more emphasis on land than on people. If she favors the army, she'll say, 'Go and keep the country whole.' And the army's approach is to go and basically shoot people," according to Lev.

At the same time, both Lev and Jones agree that it is premature to judge what Megawati will do. "She does have a couple of wonderful advisers who are committed democrats," says Jones who pointed to Laksamana Sukardi, an economist who headed the bank-restructuring agency until Wahid fired him.

In addition, according to Lev, pressure from the United States, Japan, and the European Union (EU) could persuade Megawati to keep the military in check, while the broader reform movement within civil society, particularly among young Indonesians, remains as strong as at any time since the fall of President Soeharto in 1998.

Other observers, however, are very doubtful. John Miller, director of the East Timor Action Network (ETAN) noted that Megawati not only opposed the 1999 independence referendum for East Timor, she also never expressed any sympathy for the suffering of the East Timorese at the hands of the Indonesian army. He also noted that Eurico Guterres, head of the most notorious militia during the post-plebiscite mayhem has been praised by Megawati as a national hero and made a leader of her party's youth wing.

"Renewal of military ties with Indonesia would send the worst possible signal," said Miller who called on the U.N. Security Council to establish an international tribunal to prosecute those, including Guterres, responsible for the violence.

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