Subject: Indonesia Military Ties with U.S. Still a Long Way to Go

Jakarta Post Monday, April 1, 2002

Military ties with U.S. still a long way to go

A'an Suryana, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

It is premature to expect the restoration of military ties between Indonesia and the United States to take place in the near future as the plan is likely to meet strong objections from the U.S Congress and the State Department, a political observer said.

Kusnanto Anggoro, a senior researcher from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said on Saturday that although the Pentagon might push ahead with restoring military cooperation, especially in the form of Foreign Military Sale (FMS), the Congress, which issued a ban on the sale of weaponry to Indonesia in 1999, remained doubtful of the Indonesian Military's (TNI) commitment to human rights.

"Sluggish progress in the East Timor tribunal has cast doubt over TNI's commitment to human rights," he said.

Kusnanto believed the U.S. would not hastily revive military cooperation, but instead would push the TNI to continue with internal reform.

"Should internal reform take place, which subsequently improves TNI's commitment to human rights, that will be the time for the U.S. to resume military ties," he said.

Kusnanto was commenting on talks between Indonesia and U.S. top officials on the possibility of restoring military cooperation between the two countries which was suspended after the violence that ensued the East Timor independence vote in 1999.

The TNI is widely considered responsible for the September 1999 chaos in East Timor.

Visiting U.S. senators met with Vice President Hamzah Haz and Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Saturday to look into the possibility of resuming military cooperation. Officials from the two countries will hold a forum next month here to further discuss the plan.

Military ties between the two countries have been gradually restored since 2000, but the U.S maintains an embargo on combat equipment.

TNI officials claim the ban has restrained security operations to maintain peace and order as well as efforts in fighting terrorism.

Chairman of the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI) Hendardi said on Saturday empowering the TNI with weaponry would only increase the military's destructive capability, thus posing a danger to democracy and human rights protection.

"Should the military ties be resumed, it will lead Indonesia into another dark age of anti-democracy," Hendardi said, recalling the period of rampant human rights abuses during the authoritarian New Order regime under Soeharto, who was a former general.

According to Hendardi, TNI looks certain to win back U.S. assistance in the wake of the global war against terrorism.

He said Washington planned to revive military ties with Jakarta, since it favored TNI's solid position against terrorism, currently the chief agenda of the U.S. government.

"However, the military could take the advantage of the renewed ties to develop a form of state terrorism," said Hendardi, whose office provided legal aid for East Timorese leader Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao.

Hendardi said he was concerned that the stronger the TNI the more opportunities it would receive to make a comeback in politics.

He justified the apprehension saying the current government under President Megawati Soekarnoputri displayed indifference to the presence of a strong military.

"Megawati had no comment on the reinstatement of the military command in Aceh. She took no stance either on the refusal of the high ranking military officers to meet the summons for questioning in connection with three high profile violent incidents in Trisakti University and Semanggi overpass in 1998 and 1999," he said.

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