|Subject: IPS: Renewed
Military Aid for Indonesia Faces Key Test
Renewed Military Aid for Indonesia Faces Key Test
Jim Lobe, OneWorld US
More than 50 human rights groups in Washington D.C. are pressing a key Senate committee to retain tough conditions on military aid to Indonesia which the administration of President George W. Bush sees as an important ally in its "war on terrorism."
The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to vote Thursday on next year's foreign aid bill, legislation that will include any conditions on military training and sales programs for fiscal year 2003, which begins October 1.
The administration wants all current conditions on these programs lifted, but some 57 rights groups have written a letter to Committee members insisting that the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) remain an abusive and corrupt institution that do not warrant any U.S. assistance.
"The 'war on terrorism' should not become a vehicle to support state-sponsored military terror on civilians in Indonesia," according to the letter which said that the TNI's record, especially in Aceh, West Papua, and Maluku, had grown worse over the past year.
"Military restrictions are the primary leverage the U.S. government has over the TNI," according to the letter, which was circulated by the East Timor Action Network and signed by groups such as Global Exchange, the Washington office of the Presbyterian Church, and the U.S. committee for Refugees. "If Congress removes them, the TNI will take this as an endorsement of business-as-usual and nothing will be gained."
Congress began reducing military aid to Indonesia--particularly its eligibility to send officers to the U.S. International Military Education and Training program--in the early 1990s as a result of atrocities in East Timor. It cut all military-to-military relations in 1999 after TNI-armed militias devastated the former Portuguese colony when the inhabitants voted for independence in a referendum.
Under current law, Indonesia must meet a number of conditions--known as the "Leahy Conditions" after the chairman of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee, Pat Leahy--before aid can be resumed. These include bringing to justice those responsible for the mayhem in East Timor and that civilian authorities exercise control over the TNI.
Administration officials admit that Jakarta has yet to meet these conditions, but they have argued in recent months that Indonesia's status as the world's most populous Muslim nation and strategic location on vital trade and oil routes between the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans make it a critical ally in U.S. efforts to combat terrorism, especially in Southeast Asia.
Pentagon officials, including deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz who served as ambassador to Jakarta when military ties were much closer, have also argued that resuming military aid, sales, and training would open channels to mid- and senior-level TNI officers to persuade them to improve their human rights performance.
But activists insist that such moves risk only encouraging the TNI in its abuses. "For the pressure to be lifted now would give exactly the wrong signal at the wrong time," said Mike Jendrzejczyk of Human Rights Watch in Washington. "The Indonesian military appears to be preparing to escalate its operations in Aceh where there has been no improvement at all."
Aceh, the site of a major natural gas operation run by energy giant ExxonMobil, has become increasingly polarized between rebels fighting for the province's secession and the TNI. Jakarta is currently considering declaring martial law there.
The New York Times echoed the activist position in an editorial Wednesday. "Resuming military cooperation under present conditions would...signal that Washington no longer cares about the human rights performance of Indonesia's armed forces," the newspaper wrote, adding that the TNI still constitutes a major obstacle to economic reform as well, given its "extensive business interests."
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