Subject: IPS: New strain on US ties with Indonesia

New strain on US ties with Indonesia By Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON - Saturday's dismissal by a Jakarta appeals court of all pending cases against Indonesians indicted for crimes against humanity committed in East Timor five years ago may bolster efforts by US lawmakers to halt the George W Bush administration's normalization of ties with the Indonesian armed forces (TNI).

The judicial action is also likely to fuel demands by human-rights organizations for the United Nations to create an international tribunal to bring to justice those responsible for the TNI-backed rampage that resulted in the killing of as many as 1,500 Timorese and the destruction of the newly independent country's infrastructure.

The mayhem followed a plebiscite in which an overwhelming majority of the East Timorese population voted in favor of independence from Indonesia, which invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975 and annexed it the following year. As much as a third of the population died or was killed in the five years that followed the invasion.

A UN-backed multinational force headed by Australia intervened after the violence that followed the plebiscite and helped establish an UN administration that oversaw a transitional period to independence, which took effect 15 months ago.

"Saturday's decisions show that courts in Indonesia are simply not independent and are incapable of rendering justice for the atrocities committed in East Timor," said Brad Adams, director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch (HRW).

"Indonesia has given the international community no choice but to initiate a justice mechanism for these appalling crimes, which took place in full view of the world in 1999," he added.

HRW was one of six international human-rights groups, including Amnesty International, the Coalition for International Justice and the Open Society Justice Initiative, that sent a letter to UN secretary general Kofi Annan in late June urging him to immediately appoint an International Commission of Experts to recommend how best to ensure that "those responsible for such violence be brought to justice", as demanded by the UN Security Council resolution that authorized the Australian-led intervention.

The decision by the Jakarta appeals court, which overturned the convictions of four high-ranking Indonesian military and security officials and reduced by half the 10-year sentence of a notorious TNI-backed militia that led the post-plebiscite violence, comes at a critical moment in the evolution of US policy toward the TNI.

As the world's most populous Muslim country, and one with radical Islamists reportedly linked to al-Qaeda, Indonesia has been seen as a key ally in the Bush administration's "war on terrorism" since the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Pentagon, and Washington has made little secret of its desire to end the break in ties between the TNI and the Pentagon that were suspended after the events in East Timor.

But Congress refused to go along with normalizing military ties in the absence of clear evidence that the TNI, very much a law unto itself under the Suharto dictatorship, was subject to civilian control and had cooperated fully with efforts to bring to justice those in its ranks who were responsible for the violence in East Timor as well as the 2002 murder of two US schoolteachers in West Papua.

That, indeed, was the official policy of the US government as recently as the end of 2002, when the US ambassador in Jakarta, Ralph Boyce, told the government there that full restoration of military ties, including eligibility for credits for buying US weapons (foreign military financing, or FMF) and for participation in international military education and training programs would not be possible "until there is justice for the serious human-rights violations committed in East Timor and elsewhere".

Nonetheless, Washington has moved in recent months toward full normalization. In addition to providing millions of dollars in security assistance and training, the Pentagon last month announced the resumption of the bilateral defense dialogue (BDD)with the TNI that had been cut off after the violence in East Timor.

In addition, the State Department recently told Congressional staff that it intended to reinstate Indonesia's eligibility for FMF next year, according to knowledgeable sources on Capitol Hill.

In a letter to Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld last week, even before the appeals court issued its decision, a bipartisan group of 65 lawmakers said they were "surprised and disappointed to learn" that the BDD is scheduled to reconvene and urged him to reconsider his decision, particularly in light of reports of new abuses by the TNI in West Papua and Aceh province, a restive gas-producing region that has been under a state of siege for some 15 months.

"The TNI has successfully evaded accountability for its well-documented crimes against humanity and war crimes in East Timor, and there has been little progress in improving human-rights practices in Indonesia," the group, which is headed by Republicans Tom Tancredo and Chris Smith and Democrat Lane Evans, wrote. "Additionally, the TNI continues its brutal tactics in Aceh, Papua and elsewhere, [and] there are reports that [it] has extensive connections to the terror group Laskar Jihnad," it added.

"We believe that a resumption of the dialogue at this time would go against the strong posture Congress and the executive branch took in the late 1990s to severely limit military assistance, joint exercises and exchanges with the TNI until human-rights issues were addressed."

The appeals court decision is likely to strengthen that sentiment.

HRW noted that the four acquitted officials are Major General Rachmat Damiri, who was commander of the military region that included East Timor and has more recently overseen the counter-insurgency campaign in Aceh; Colonel Nur Muis, who was TNI's commander in East Timor; former police chief Hulman Gultom; and former Dili military commander Lieutenant-Colonel Soedjarwo. All had been found guilty by the ad hoc Human Rights Court in Jakarta for crimes against humanity, which Indonesia created largely to preempt the creation of an international tribunal on East Timor.

Damiri and Muis were also indicted in February 2003 on three counts of crimes against humanity by the UN Serious Crimes Unit (SCU) in a joint indictment with East Timorese authorities in Dili, the capital of the new country. But the Indonesian government has refused to recognize that tribunal or extradite anyone to East Timor.

The result of Saturday's decision is not only that no senior Indonesian military official will be held accountable for crimes committed by the TNI and client militia in East Timor, but that the only two people who will have been successfully prosecuted are Timorese - the militia leader whose sentence was halved, and the former governor of the province.

"The results of these cases show that Indonesia remains committed to the fiction that the violence in East Timor was carried out only by East Timorese," said Adams. "The well-documented reality is that the violence was planned and orchestrated by the Indonesia military. The judicial games in Jakarta cannot alter these facts."

HRW called for the UN and key members, including the US, Australia, Japan and the European Union countries to move quickly in creating the commission of experts that would be empowered to review the judicial processes in both Jakarta and Dili and propose an international tribunal.

"The international community must fulfill its promises of justice to the East Timorese people," said John M Miller, a spokesman for the US branch of the East Timor Action Network. "The UN-backed SCU in Dili has issued a large number of highly credible indictments of senior Indonesian officials. They must not be allowed to rot in some file drawer in Dili."

The SCU has so far filed 83 indictments that accuse 373 individuals. Some 279 of them, including the former TNI commander and recent presidential candidate Wiranto, are currently at large in Indonesia.

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