Subject: WSJ: Timor Haunts US Aim To Engage Indonesia in Terror War

Received from Joyo Indonesian News

The Wall Street Journal March 5, 2002

Timor Military Abuses Vex U.S. Aim To Engage Indonesia in Terror War


As the nation with the world's biggest Muslim population, Indonesia is high on Washington's list as a potential partner in the antiterror war. But there's a problem: Jakarta's military refuses to accept responsibility for abuses by its forces in East Timor, the former Portuguese colony where in September 1999 Indonesian troops and militias they backed killed hundreds of people in a rampage that outraged the world. Until there's an accounting, Washington is loath to resume military ties that it severed shortly afterward.

"We just haven't decided how to move forward," says an administration official. "And even after we make up our minds, Congress will have a lot to say about what will actually happen."

Today, human-rights trials for those responsible for the rampage remain the only significant obstacle to the resumption of military ties. But even with specially legislated courts finally in place to try the handful of Indonesian officers, militiamen and civilian officials indicted so far for genocide and crimes against humanity in Timor, the army apparently still needs convincing. Even if it decides to sacrifice one or two generals, diplomats say Congress -- and probably the United Nations, too -- may have to judge whether Indonesia has done enough.

The signs aren't good. For example, many are angered that former armed-forces commander Gen. Wiranto and his representative in East Timor, Maj.-Gen. Zacky Anwar Makarim, appear to have been let off the hook for what happened there. The government, moreover, clearly worried about setting a precedent, refuses to extradite 17 low-ranking suspects to face trial by an international tribunal in East Timor for crimes against humanity.

The military has also raised hackles at home by turning its back on a Commission on Human Rights investigation into the sniper killings of four students at Jakarta's Triskati University, the incident that triggered bloody riots in May 1998 that killed 1,500 people and led to the resignation of President Suharto. To rub salt into the wound, the officer who presided over those events, Maj.-Gen. Syafrie Samsuddin, was recently appointed military spokesman.

This leaves the U.S. in a dilemma over how to engage the Indonesian military on counterterrorism. The U.S. Pacific forces commander, Adm. Dennis Blair, says there is a "continuing policy review" under way to figure out how to work with Indonesian forces.

The longer the situation drags on, however, the more isolated Jakarta could become. Legislation before Congress, and the recent authorization of the multinational Financial Action Task Force to tackle terrorist financing, promise tough new sanctions on nations that don't cooperate. Says a U.S. law-enforcement officer: "We can't even find [Indonesia] in the dugout, let alone stepping up to the plate."

U.S. and Southeast Asian officials say Indonesia is the weak link in the region's fight against Islamic extremists, but Jakarta insists it doesn't have the evidence to act against radicals such as Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Baasyir, the alleged founder of Jemaah Islamiah, a regional extremist group and suspected conduit for al Qaeda financing. U.S. officials also say Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri doesn't want to crack down on such groups for fear of antagonizing the Islamic parties in her fragile coalition.

To be sure, Indonesia has made efforts to improve its human-rights record. Three militiamen accused of the September 2000 murder of three U.N. aid workers in West Timor recently had their jail terms increased to between five and seven years from between 10 and 20 months. The military also appears to have made progress sensitizing soldiers to dealing with civilian populations, particularly in the secessionist northern Sumatran province of Aceh.

Still, human-rights advocates worry that recent parliamentary backing for the military's opposition to investigations into the Triskati incident, and the shooting of student protesters on two subsequent occasions, will influence the outcome of the East Timor trials.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), who sponsored the 1999 bill that cut military ties with Indonesia, is in no mood to allow the war on terror to sideline human-rights concerns. "Senior officers in the Indonesian military were responsible for orchestrating the slaughter and destruction in East Timor," he says. "It is imperative they be brought to justice."

Write to John McBeth at and Murray Hiebert at

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