Subject: AP: Indonesian Activists Implore US Not to Forsake Human Rights

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

Associated Press

August 1, 2002

Indonesia Activists Urge Human Rights


JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) - Among Indonesia's rewards for quietly cooperating with Washington in the anti-terror war is the Bush administration's support for renewed ties with a military tainted by a brutal past.

Activists are imploring Secretary of State Colin Powell, who visits Indonesia this week, not to forsake human rights for the war against terror.

``The need for justice, military reform, demilitarization of conflict zones and respect for human rights must receive equal or greater priority to the 'war on terrorism,''' Karen Orenstein, Washington coordinator for the rights group East Timor Action Network, wrote this week in a letter to Powell.

The United States cut military ties to Indonesia because of atrocities committed by Indonesian troops in East Timor - which became independent in May.

The United States is pushing to renew those links - a bitter pill to swallow for people with memories of Indonesian soldiers killing civilians inside churches in East Timor, or torturing suspected separatists in the far flung provinces of Aceh and Irian Jaya.

Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim country. Keeping it as an ally in the terrorism war - not reining in human rights abuses - appears to be the top priority for President Bush, who recently called Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri to praise her government's counterterrorism efforts.

Powell's one-day visit to Indonesia on Friday is aimed at shoring up the anti-terrror cooperation - which U.S. officials say is progressing well despite Indonesia's reluctance to publicize it out of fear of provoking radical groups.

In Singapore on Tuesday, Powell said the Indonesians ``have been cooperating more fully with us as time goes by. I'm quite sure that Mrs. Megawati is committed to this cause.''

There is evidence that Indonesia's cooperation is in fact growing: the country has handed over at least two terror suspects, is moving to track the bank accounts of suspected terrorists and is actively sharing intelligence with the United States, diplomats and officials say.

But there's also plenty of reasons to doubt Indonesia's commitment - and Washington's recent praise is aimed as much at fostering moderation in the Muslim world as recognizing actual Indonesian assistance.

After the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, Singapore and Malaysia arrested dozens of suspected al-Qaida linked terrorists and, based on evidence found in Afghanistan, accused them of plotting terrorist attacks against Western interests in Southeast Asia.

Singapore founding father Lee Kuan Yew said the suspects are part of an al-Qaida linked terror network based in Indonesia called Jemaat Islamiyah. Indonesia has not arrested any known members of Jemaat Islamiyah - and the group's suspected leader, Abu Bakar Bashir, remains free in Indonesia.

The one famous Islamic militant Indonesia did arrest - Jafar Umar Thalib - was inexplicably released last week ahead of his trial on charges of inciting violence against Christians. That trial was supposed to begin on Thursday but a judge - again inexplicably - delayed it for two weeks, saying Thalib ``looked pale.''

Indonesian Vice President Hamzah Haz raised eyebrows in May when he visited Thalib in jail. For Haz and other politicians, being perceived as a U.S. ally isn't as pressing as shoring up Muslim support ahead of the 2004 national elections.

Experts believe Indonesia, a country of 210 million people and more than 13,000 islands spread across 3,000 miles, could easily serve as a safe haven or transit point for al-Qaida operatives.

Yet the extent of al-Qaida's infiltration into Indonesia remains unclear. The form of Islam practiced here is considered among the world's most moderate - and, unlike Saudi Arabia or Pakistan - the country is not considered a hotbed of extremism.

The Senate Appropriations Committee in the United States recently voted to remove restrictions on military training for Indonesia - a measure that still must be approved by the full U.S. Congress.

Legislation passed by Congress on July 25 gives $16 million to the Indonesian police, including dlrs 12 million to establish a special anti-terrorism unit.

After Sept. 11, the Bush administration lifted an embargo on the sale of non-lethal commercial arms to Indonesia - but the proposed legislation to reinstate military assistance includes human rights conditions on arms transfers.

U.S. officials have argued that re-establishing ties to the military will promote reform within the institution.

But Washington-based Human Rights Watch warned against renewing military ties in a statement this week, saying the Indonesian army itself has been implicated in creating and training radical Muslim groups.

Said Mike Jendrzejczyk, Washington director of the HRW's Asia division: ``Until the Indonesian armed forced demonstrate a commitment to accountability and civilian control, they will be an unreliable partner in fighting terrorism.''

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