Subject: IPS: Australia-Indonesia Military Links Risky
Also - AFR: Australia gets off on the wrong side in Jakarta
Asia Times October 26, 2002
Australia-Indonesia military links risky
By Sonny Inbaraj
MELBOURNE (Inter Press Service) - Australia's move to restore links with Indonesia's feared special forces after the October 12 bombings in Bali is risky and short-sighted, say activists and analysts.
They were reacting to this week's disclosure of Australia's plans to train Indonesia's special forces, or Kopassus, by Defense Minister Robert Hill, who was speaking on Australian Broadcasting Corp TV's Lateline program on Tuesday.
"Kopassus has not had a good human-rights record, but it is Indonesia's most effective response to terrorism," Hill said, especially after the Bali bombings that as of the latest count killed 190 people so far, most of them Australians.
Added Hill: "It's really its [Indonesia's] only counter-terrorism capability. You can therefore argue that it's in Australia's best interests to be working with them to protect Australians and Australian interests in Indonesia."
Within hours of the Bali bombings, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer named Indonesia-based Islamist group Jemaah Islamiyah as the prime suspect.
On October 15, Prime Minister John Howard announced that Australia would propose that the group be placed on the United Nations list of terrorist organizations for having links with al-Qaeda.
The explosion of a huge car bomb at 11:30pm on October 12, followed shortly afterward by a second one, was targeted at nightclubs packed with tourists in Bali's famous Kuta beach - an area frequented by Australian surfers and backpackers.
Hill's comments immediately attracted criticism from human-rights activists.
"For neophyte Defense Minister Robert Hill to proclaim the way to combat terror in Indonesia is to train and enhance Kopassus is insulting. The fox in charge of the chicken coop as many would suggest," said Rob Wesley-Smith, the convenor of Australians for a Free East Timor.
"East Timor activists have known since 1975 that the masters of terror were the Indonesian military. The worst of these were the Kopassus commandos," Wesley-Smith said, citing their notorious rights record, especially in the Suharto era.
"The head thug for many years was Prabowo, Suharto's son-in-law, who was Kopassus commander. He took personal hands-on pride in terror for terror's sake in East Timor," added Wesley-Smith.
Australia's military training of Kopassus was suspended after the September 1999 East Timor violence, carried out by Indonesian military-sponsored militias after the UN-sponsored independence ballot.
"The Kopassus role in training and leading East Timor's militias is well documented, but what is less clearly recorded is this same role with other shadowy militia groups in places like West Papua, Ambon and Aceh," said Damien Kingsbury, who observed the East Timor ballot and now teaches international studies in Deakin University.
"In each case, Kopassus has trained armed vigilante groups to deflect from the military responsibility for atrocities," he added.
"Support for the Indonesian military generally, and Kopassus in particular, is a major error of judgement," stressed Kingsbury.
In late September, Hill gave hints in a speech that training for Kopassus would be resumed, when he made an observation that the Indonesian military, known by its Indonesian acronym TNI, was fundamentally important in the country.
He described the armed forces as a secular organization and the key in the Indonesian government's efforts to promote tolerance and harmony among the different faiths in the mainly Muslim nation, struck in recent years by communal tensions in different areas.
But TNI's role in playing with the fire of Islamic extremism and staging violent incidents within Indonesia was brought up at a forum organized by the Asia Link Center for the Melbourne Institute of Asian Languages and Societies.
"To suggest that the TNI stands apart from religious conflict is just wrong," said Professor Merle Ricklefs, director of the Melbourne Institute of Asian Languages and Studies.
"This is rather ironic because we know that the Indonesian military was at least tolerant of and possibly running [the Islam militant group] Laskar Jihad and sending them to Christian areas in Ambon and Sulawesi," Ricklefs told the forum.
Peter Mares, an Indonesian specialist with Radio Australia, agreed with Ricklefs.
"Clearly, Indonesia's security apparatus would have to play a role in fighting terrorism, but the problem is if you asked many Indonesians what was the greatest source of terror in their lives - particularly Indonesians in Aceh and Papua, they would say, indeed, the Indonesian military," said Mares.
"So are the Indonesian military part of the solution or part of the problem?" he asked.
While many Australian officials deride them as "silly", questions are being asked by some on whether TNI should be on the list of suspects of the Bali bombings.
Tim Lindsey, director of Melbourne University's Asian Law Center, explained that it is possible that some in the military are in illegal or criminal activities because only one-third of the military's budget comes from government sources and they have to find other funding.
"So it is inevitable that any major criminal event regardless of religious affiliation - of people performing those acts [communal strife] - will at some point link to rogue elements [within TNI] or some individual officer or to particular barracks," he said.
"For example armaments and explosives - the best way to obtain them is through gangster linkages into military barracks and so forth. So it would be bizarre if there was not a military link," he argued.
An Australian Federal Police team in Bali indicates that the explosives used in the Bali attacks were one kilogram of TNT and a device with 100kg of ammonium nitrate and diesel oil - easily obtained in Indonesia.
But Indonesian police say that C4 plastic explosive was an active ingredient in the blast at the Sari club. The 1999 al-Qaeda attack on the destroyer USS Cole, which killed 17 US sailors, employed C4 as well.
Australia gets off on the wrong side in Jakarta
Defence Minister Senator Robert Hill has said that in a bid to counter terrorism, Australia will restore its links with the Indonesian army's special forces, Kopassus, and strengthen intelligence links with the country. This decision was disturbingly predictable and very short-sighted.
The government has been edging towards closer cooperation with the Indonesian military for over a year but has been restrained by the popular memory of why military links were broken off.
The public perception of events in East Timor in 1999 has not appreciably changed but the government now sees terrorism, in particular that with a radical Islamic character, as being the prime threat.
However, support for the military generally, and Kopassus in particular, is a major error of judgement at two levels.
The first is the history of Kopassus' involvement with terrorism, along with the TNI more generally. The second is that such support implicitly endorses and reinforces the types of political structures that have led to most of Indonesia's problems now.
The Kopassus role in training and leading East Timor's militias is well documented, but what is less clearly recorded is this same role with other shadowy militia groups in places like West Papua, Maluku (Ambon) and Aceh. In each case, Kopassus has trained armed vigilante groups to deflect from the military responsibility for atrocities.
Kopassus members were, for example, involved in the training of the notorious Laskar Jihad in West Java. This group was responsible for the deaths of many thousands in Maluku and Central Sulawesi and many members had previously fought with the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
The organisation most publicly linked with the Bali bombing, Jemaah Islamiyah, was also one of the sources of funds for the Laskar Jihad. It was just a short step from Jemaah Islamiyah to Kopassus, especially via the Green (Islamic) generals of the Soeharto era.
Kopassus also had its modus operandi stamped all over the murders of hundreds of moderate Islamic clerics in East Java in late 1998 - the so-called Ninja murders. It was also involved in the kidnapping and murder of student activists in 1998, political activists, unionists and others throughout the New Order period and the killings in East Timor from 1975 until 1999.
It is Kopassus members who are charged with the murder of Papuan independence leader Theys Eluay in November 2001.
The TNI has also been implicated in the recent attack near the Freeport mine in West Papua, in which two American and an Indonesian were killed.
If there was any doubt about the formal - as opposed to rogue element - role of Kopassus, it was spelled out in its training manual. This cited tactics and techniques for conducting psychological warfare, propaganda, kidnapping, terror, agitation, sabotage and other operations. This is not directed against external enemies of the state, but against Indonesian citizens.
Kopassus does have some small claim to opposing terrorism.
In the early 1980s a small radical Islamic group referred to by the military as Komando Jihad bombed the Borobudur Buddhist monument in Central Java and in 1981 hijacked a plane to Bangkok. Kopassus troops stormed the plane and rescued most of the passengers and aircrew. The Komando Jihad was in fact set up by Major-General Ali Murtopo to discredit political Islam ahead of the 1982 elections.
In terms of Australia's long-term relations with Indonesia, a foreign policy position that again backs the military will end up having a profoundly negative impact on civil and political rights in Indonesia.
We are already seeing the military taking a repressive line in West Papua and Aceh. The continued detention in Aceh of Australian-based academic Dr Lesley McCulloch on a visa charge is a small but meaningful illustration of that approach.
Interestingly, Politics and Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has already warned of more terror attacks, but specifically in Aceh. This meets the TNI's long-term plan of having the Free Aceh Movement listed as a terrorist group even though its independence claim is purely local. Yudhoyono's comments on the terrorism that led to Bali, however, have been far more subdued and equivocal.
At a time when there was still some, albeit fading, hope of reducing the TNI's political role, this move will legitimise its claim to be the guardian of the state. The TNI will in any case use Bali to assert its authority and, as so often in the past, Indonesia is likely to see its fledgling middle ground consumed by extremism on either side.
In this, Australian foreign policy advice derives from a narrow source, one that saw Soeharto's corruption as not a problem, his East Timor militias as not dangerous and believed that there were no meaningful militia-TNI links.
It also posited recently that radical Islam in Indonesia did not have terror links. That same source of advice is now recommending that Australia back Kopassus.
How often do we need to get it wrong before we start getting it right?
Australia's policy must recognise Indonesia's problems that lead to resentment and attempt to address, rather than repress, them. Support for the judiciary, police investigators and the health and education sectors will do much more to address the real problems.
Support for the TNI, and in particular its most brutal branch, Kopassus, may eventually restore stability, of a brittle type. And it may not. But the price now being paid in the form of support for Indonesia's Islamist extremism is a consequence of political manipulation and repression under the previous military-dominated government.
Australia's support for another one would be a profound mistake.
Damien Kingsbury is a senior lecturer, philosophical, political and international studies, Deakin University.
Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from http://www.v3inc.com/