Subject: AP: Indonesia defense minister hopes to resume military ties with Washington

Indonesia defense minister hopes to resume military ties with Washington

October 21, 2004 2:26am
Associated Press WorldStream

JAKARTA, Indonesia_Indonesia's new defense minister said Thursday he plans to visit Washington to urge the resumption of military ties with his country _ the world's biggest Muslim nation and a key ally in the global fight against terror.

U.S. Congress has so far blocked moves to reopen ties, which were severed in 1999 when Indonesian soldiers and militia proxies took part in bloody rampage that killed hundreds of people in East Timor following its vote for independence.

Washington maintains that the military has not improved its human rights record since then. Suspected military involvement in the murder of two Americans teachers at U.S.-owned gold mine in the remote province of Papua in 2002 has also complicated moves to restore links.

"We will try to resume military ties in the near future," Juwono Sudarsono told reporters after he was sworn in as defense minister.

Indonesia wants to resume full ties so it can buy new military equipment from the United States and take part in U.S. defense training programs.

Sudarsono said he would visit Washington soon to lobby Congress, the Defense Department, and rights activists to "explain the conditions our soldiers are facing in the field." He did not elaborate.

"It should not be so easy to condemn our soldiers," he said.

Newly elected President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, himself a former general, is popular in Washington for his tough talk on terrorism.

After U.S. President George W. Bush took over at the White House, an effort spearheaded by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz _ a former ambassador to Jakarta _ was launched to improve relations with the armed forces.

This was justified by the need to build Indonesia into a bulwark against al-Qaida infiltration in Southeast Asia, where the Jemaah Islamiyah terror group has launched several terror attacks in the region in recent years.

Indonesia's military has long been accused of human rights violations. Amnesty International has accused soldiers of torture and extra-judicial killings in the insurgency-hit province of Aceh.

While Jakarta did hold rights trials for some of those accused in the East Timor violence, 16 of the 18 government and military officials involved were acquitted. That sparked outrage among Western governments and rights groups who labeled the rights court a failure.

see also U.S.-Indonesia Military Assistance page

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