Subject: IPS: US paves way for new Indonesia military ties

Also - US: Funding for Indonesian military expected to resume

Asia Times January 28, 2003

US paves way for new Indonesia military ties

By Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON (Inter Press Service) - The administration of US President George W Bush has moved a major step closer to normalizing military ties with the Indonesian military (TNI), which it hopes will be a key ally in its war against terrorism in Southeast Asia.

The Senate voted 61-36 on Thursday to defeat an amendment that would have barred funding for enrolling Indonesians in Washington's International Military Education and Training (IMET) program until it cooperates fully in an investigation into the killing of two US teachers in West Papua last summer.

The administration's eagerness to restore military aid and training to Indonesia - first restricted in 1991 after a well-publicized massacre in East Timor, and then cut off entirely in 1999 when TNI-backed militias ransacked the former Portuguese colony - has made it a top foreign-policy priority since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against New York and the Pentagon.

The administration has claimed that Indonesia, the most populous nominally Muslim country, remains a key recruiting ground and possible safe haven for al-Qaeda and its sympathizers, a notion that was bolstered by last October's terrorist attack on a nightclub in Bali and the subsequent investigation.

The blast killed 187 people, mostly Australian tourists, and police investigators have so far put together a strong case implicating Islamist radicals.

But there has been substantial opposition to renewing military ties with the TNI, which is widely considered by international human-rights groups as one of the world's most abusive and corrupt national military institutions. Since even before the military coup d'etat by former president Suharto in 1964, the armed forces have dominated the state apparatus.

While the amount of money at stake in Thursday's vote - only US$400,000 in training funds, according to Congressional staff - was paltry, the symbolic significance of renewed IMET eligibility for Indonesian military officers is hard to overstate, according to Indonesia analysts here and in Indonesia. In effect, it represents a return to respectability on the part of the TNI after its ostracism in 1999.

In October, eight major Indonesian human-rights groups wrote to members of Congress expressing "great alarm" at the administration's efforts to lift restrictions on US aid, including training, for the TNI.

"Irreparable damage will be done to our efforts at reform," the groups warned. "Any further attempts by the TNI to change old practices will almost certainly end" if Congress provides IMET training or other forms of military aid, the letter said.

Rights groups here, such as Human Rights Watch, also opposed renewing IMET funding, and expressed outrage at Thursday's vote.

"The Indonesian military has sabotaged international efforts to attain justice for crimes against humanity committed in East Timor, exonerated itself of the strong implication that its elite Special Forces recently murdered two US teachers and beat a US nurse - yet the Senate voted to give the military a level of support not seen in more than a decade," said Kurt Biddle, Washington coordinator of the Indonesia Human Rights Network (IHRN). "Why is the Senate rewarding this behavior?"

"Human-rights groups understand perfectly well that if there is to be any real reform in Indonesia, you've got to get the army out of politics, and renewing ties now is not going to help that," said Dan Lev, an Indonesia expert at the University of Washington in Seattle. "On the contrary, it's going to boost the army's political clout."

In support of renewing the aid, administration officials did not claim that the TNI has made major reforms, although they argue that the army no longer has the clout that it enjoyed under Suharto, who was ousted from power in 1998. Instead, the officials, principally Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and his top deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, who served as US ambassador to Jakarta for three years in the 1980s, contended that the TNI's cooperation was crucial to the success of anti-terrorist efforts.

They also argued that Washington's decision to cut military training in 1992 might actually have had the perverse effect of making TNI officers less sensitive to human rights concerns, which are supposed to have been an integrated part of the IMET curriculum.

As Wolfowitz argued last November, "more contact with the West and with the United States and moving them in a positive direction is important both to support democracy and to support the fight against terrorism".

Last month, the RAND Corp, a think-tank close to the Pentagon, released a report that argued strongly for renewing close ties. "Since military training for Indonesia was effectively terminated in 1992, there has been a 'lost generation' of Indonesian officers - officers who have no experience with the United States or who have no understanding of the importance that the United States military attaches to civilian leadership, democracy, and respect for human rights," it said.

But many veteran Indonesia observers, who note that Jakarta sent scores of officers for IMET and related training before and during the Suharto era, strongly disagree with this argument.

"The case that's being made is that training helps Indonesian army officers understand human rights and not violate them," Lev said. "But, after nearly 40 years of experience, we have to conclude that, if anything, they got better at abusing human rights."

Activists had believed that the killing of the two US teachers and an Indonesian colleague in an ambush near the giant FreeportMcMoRan gold mine in West Papua last September - as well as the prolonged detention of a US nurse volunteering in Aceh and the failure of the Indonesian justice system to convict high-ranking military officers for the 1999 East Timor rampages - would persuade Congress to hold off on renewing ties.

Indonesian police, who were joined this month by agents of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, have pointed to Indonesian Special Forces as the most likely culprits in what may have been an attempt to "punish" Freeport for failing to pay enough for security.

But the October Bali bombing changed the political dynamic in Washington, persuading many lawmakers who had been skeptical about the threat of radical Islamist groups in Indonesia to go along with the administration.


Asia Pacific Report / Radio Australia

January 29, 2003

-transcript-

US: Funding for Indonesian military expected to resume

The United States is expected to bypass Congressional restrictions on funding the Indonesian military or TNI as early as this week. During the East Timor crisis, Congress passed the Leahy provisions which stopped funding to the TNI until it demonstrated clear improvements in human rights and accountability. But critics of the TNI say that a section of the multi-facted Budget bills about to pass the House, will supercede that Leahy bill.

Presenter/Interviewer: Di Martin

Speakers: Ed McWilliams, former political counsel at the US Embassy in Jakarta

MARTIN: When Indonesian military-backed militia razed East Timor in September 1999, Congress cut all ties with the TNI. Later that year the Leahy provisions were passed in Congress putting strict conditions on any resumption of US military funding to Indonesia. But America's focus on global terrorism, and Indonesia's status as the world's most populous Muslim nation, is a combination resulting in a profound shift in that previously hardline US funding position. It started to change mid last year with the Defence Department committing four million dollars worth of counter-terrorism training to the TNI. Now, as part of the huge budget set of bills about to get the nod, Congress is expected to approve inclusion of the TNI in the US International Military Education and Training program or IMET. Indonesia's involvement in the Hawaii-based program is only worth about half a million dollars, but those who are trying to prevent the sidelining of the Leahy provisions see the IMET invitation as a dangerous development in direct military assistance. Ed McWilliams is a former political counsellor with the US Embassy in Jakarta.

MCWILLIAMS: This is important because although it's only 400,000 dollars, it is symbolically a very important opportunity for the TNI to begin to receive funds, which had been denied the TNI because of its abuses of human rights and other problems domestically.

MARTIN: And this move doesn't contradict the Leahy amendments that were passed a couple of years ago?

MCWILLIAMS: This development supercedes the Leahy provisions that had been essentially constraining all military assistance provided at least through the State Department channels of funding for the TNI. We do still have the Leahy provisions impacting to some extent our assistance to the TNI insofar as restrictions continue on foreign military assistance sales and issuance of licenses for purchases of US made weaponry by the TNI.

MARTIN: Ed McWilliams says the change in US Congressional attitudes has less to do with Republican dominance in both the House and the Senate, than with America's obsession with dealing with global terrorism in the post September 11 environment.

MCWILLIAMS: I think it's not so much the fact that the Republicans now control the Senate; of course they had control of the House of Representatives for some time. What has really changed is that the administration's arguments that it needs to have the cooperation of foreign militaries to fight terrorism in its rubric has had great sway on the Hill. There is no one prepared now or very few people prepared on the Hill to say no to the administration on the terrorism issue. So that when it comes to the Congress and says we need to make the TNI a partner in our fight against terrorism in Indonesia for example, very few people are prepared to stand up against that. What is interesting we still have some Republicans and of course quite a few Democrats who are prepared to contest that, but nowhere near the numbers that we've seen in the past.

MARTIN: Do you think that faith in the TNI, in fighting terrorism is credible considering your experience in Jakarta?

MCWILLIAMS: No, no certainly not, I mean the point we have tried to make to friends in the Congress is that the TNI itself has been a partner in terrorism. I mean it sponsors terrorist organisations, such as Laskar Jihad, cooperates with them, so that we are making ourselves a partner of an institution which is itself a terrorist organisation, an organisation which conspires with terrorists.

MARTIN: And within that context explain the Feingold Bill, which was lost last week in the Senate?

MCWILLIAMS: This was in the form of amendment offered by Senator Feingold, which very specifically would have limited IMET assistance, IMET opportunity for the TNI to what we call expanded IMET, which is a very limited program.

MARTIN: Which only deals with human rights rather than, say, gun trading or whatever?

MCWILLIAMS: Exactly, non-lethal aspects of military training. This amendment to essentially give TNI only the smallest weakest element of IMET was defeated in a largely party line vote, 61-36. We did find a number of Republicans crossing the aisle as we say to support the Finegold amendment, but in the final analysis nowhere near enough.

MARTIN: So in other words your argument that TNI has been a sponsor of terrorism failed in the Congress?

MCWILLIAMS: That was but one of the arguments that were employed. We also argued that in as much as we have now apparently seen the TNI culpable for the murder of two American citizens and the wounding of eight American citizens in the Timika incident, an attack on some schoolteachers back in August.

MARTIN: This was in West Papua?

MCWILLIAMS: In West Papua, it was our assumption that this would carry quite a bit of weight with the American Congressman and Senators, and it did indeed but not sufficient to overcome the administration argument that no, they needed TNI as a partner in the war on terrorism.


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