|Subject: AU: Kopassus in E Timor - Licensed
Licensed to kill
The Bali bombings and the war on terror have led Australia to resume joint training exercises with Indonesia's most feared army unit, implicated in human rights abuses, writes Mark Dodd
AT his war crimes trial in Dili in 2001, East Timorese militia leader Joni Marques, facing 13 counts of murder, assault, kidnapping and torture including the cold-blooded killing of a nun, fingered Australian SAS and Indonesian Kopassus special forces as his former trainers.
In an admission that stunned the Dili court, the then 37-year-old Team Alpha militiaman said he had been recruited and trained by Kopassus, Indonesia's special forces, in exercises that also involved Australian troops.
Asked by his lawyer how the training was conducted, Marques replied: "It was guerilla warfare. We trained together."
Lawyer: "In the exercise, what was the Australian army's role?"
Marques: "The Australian troops tried to catch me."
A Defence Department spokesman said later it was a matter of record that the Australian Defence Force trained Indonesian army personnel at the time. It is also a matter of record that so did the Perth-based Special Air Service Regiment specialists in the art of hostage rescue, counter-insurgency, long-range surveillance and clandestine operations.
East Timor's most prominent and respected human rights group, Yayasan HAK, last week cited the Marques case as a good example of why Canberra should reconsider its decision to resume joint training with Indonesia's most capable but also most feared army unit.
HAK spokesman Jose Oliveira says in April 1999 he witnessed Kopassus special forces directing pro-Jakarta militia in a massacre in the Catholic church at Liquica, which left 52 unarmed civilians dead and dozens injured. "Kopassus were involved right across East Timor, directly and indirectly. They operated intelligence gathering, supervised beatings and torture and supported the militia with training. I saw what happened with Kopassus and the militia in Liquica when I went to organise humanitarian assistance. I saw the Kopassus directing the Besi Merah Putih (Red and White Iron) militia."
Oliveira says the extent of Kopassus's accountability in the violence that swept East Timor in 1999 is still unresolved. On July 24, 2000, New Zealand soldier Leonard Manning became the UN's first combat fatality during a security sweep in East Timor's rugged border region; he was shot dead in an ambush, said at the time to have been led by well-trained militia.
A follow-up operation by Kiwi troops scouring the area of the ambush recovered several items of military paraphernalia including a special forces first-aid kit and a discarded Kopassus tunic.
While UN military spin doctors in Dili singled out "the militia", senior New Zealand army intelligence officers were in no doubt Manning's death involved Kopassus.
Peace has returned to East Timor but it is not hard to find legacies of the Kopassus deployment to the former Portuguese colony rebelling against its annexation by Indonesia.
A visitor taking any bush road winding up into the country's picturesque mountains will come across long-deserted buildings marked with fading red paint saying 'Kopassandha' (special forces). The name is stencilled on dozens of deserted outposts littering former hot spots across the territory.
While no Kopassus personnel have ever been prosecuted successfully for East Timor war crimes, evidence of its handiwork is filed in extensive records held by the now disbanded UN Serious Crimes Panel. But neither East Timor nor Australia is keen to pursue prosecution of Indonesian military personnel for war crimes committed during 25 years of brutal occupation. Both Dili and Canberra believe the greater interest is served by mending relations with Indonesia.
Now a new security imperative, the global and regional war on terror, means the UN's SCP records are unlikely to see the light of day.
Australia did suspend military co-operation with Kopassus in 1999 over the murky role played by the Indonesian military, including its special forces, in organising, training and arming the deadly pro-Jakarta militias in East Timor. But counter-terrorism exercises between the Perth-based SASR and Kopassus will resume early next year, Defence Minister Robert Hill announced earlier this month.
"In this era of heightened terrorist threats, it is in Australia's interests to engage with regional special forces, such as Kopassus, to safeguard the lives of Australians and Australian interests abroad.
"The bombings in Bali in October 2005 further highlighted the need for regional countries to work together in combating this common threat. Kopassus Unit 81 has the most effective capability to respond to a counter hijack or hostage recovery threat in Indonesia," Hill said.
Senior Jakarta-based defence sources say informal contact between the SASR and Kopassus has been occurring for the past 18 months. Kopassus Unit 81, the specialised counter-terrorism unit that will train with the SAS, did deploy to East Timor in 1999 under the command of then Colonel Pramono Edhie Wibowo. He is the son of the late Lieutenant-General Sarwo Edhie Wibowo, a Kopassus founder and close ally of disgraced former dictator General Suharto.
There is no evidence any human rights abuses were committed by Pramono or his group in East Timor. But it's believed his Kopassus unit was deployed to Dili on September 5, the day of an attack on the Catholic diocese office. Several hundred Timorese had sought protection at the office, which was torched by militia just a day before Bishop Carlos Belo's house was razed. At least 12 people died in the diocese inferno.
Brigadier-General Pramono is now the deputy commander of Kopassus and his sister, Kristiana Herawati, is Indonesia's first lady.
Indonesia's most elite army formation, the "red beret" Kopassus comprises a 5000-strong force trained in covert warfare. Kopassus troops have high morale and esprit de corps, rare qualities among Indonesia's numerous territorial defence units. Like their Australian special forces counterparts, Kopassus soldiers get the best equipment and weapons.
The unit's inception dates to the 1980s when the head of Indonesia's Army Strategic Intelligence Office (BAIS) formed a new Detachment 81, named after an international hijacking of a Garuda DC-9 at Bangkok Airport on March 31, 1981.
Troops who rescued the plane and its passengers were the first members of what was later to be called Detachment 81.
William Wise is associate director of Southeast Asian studies at Washington's Johns Hopkins University and an internationally acknowledged authority on Kopassus, Wise's 30-year military career includes serving as deputy national security adviser to US Pacific Command. In his book Indonesia's War on Terror he says Unit 81 training focuses on hostage rescue in both urban and jungle environments. Its facilities are equipped for anti-hijacking scenarios involving buses and aircraft.
Wise cites a senior Kopassus officer as saying Unit 81 has had to become virtually self-sufficient in training after joint exercises were curtailed with Australia, the US, Britain, France and South Korea, but not with Thailand and Singapore. In addition to Unit 81, the TNI (Indonesian military) has 10 "raider" battalions trained by Kopassus for counter-terrorism operations, he says.
According to Wise there is no co-ordinated program of co-operation between Kopassus and Indonesia's national police paramilitary force, Brimob. Brimob (Brigade Mobil) is organised into large military-style formations, designed to conduct internal security operations across the archipelago.
David Bourchier, chair of Asian Studies at the University of Western Australia, says Kopassus has a long history of involvement in human rights abuses in Aceh, Papua and East Timor. "The main argument against getting involved with Kopassus is their track record of operations on the fringes of legality. They commonly involve an element of deniability. They were certainly involved in the murder of [Papuan independence leader] Theys Eluay," he says.
In line with recent moves by Washington, Bourchier says the Howard Government is now seeking to improve its defence co-operation with Indonesia. "The problem is, there are very few controls on what they do."
Anatomy of a well-armed, ruthless elite
KOPASSUS is an Indonesian acronym taken from the name of the country's elite special forces group, Komando Pasukan Khusus.
Kopassus was founded in 1952 using the experience gained from fighting Maluku-based insurgents. It gained valuable experience from Dutch army defector Major Rokus Bernandus Visser, who was also a former special forces operative.
It has headquarters in Jakarta and Bandung and its troop strength is estimated at 5000 soldiers -- the most highly trained in the Indonesian military (TNI) -- divided into five groups.
Groups one and two are strike formations, three is a training group, four intelligence and five (Unit 81) is counter-terror. Its role involves special missions, sabotage, hostage rescue, covert warfare, counter-terrorism and intelligence gathering.
Kopassus is the best equipped Indonesian military unit. Weapons include variants of the MP5 submachine gun, Czech-made CZScorpion and Israeli Uzi. Assault rifles include the Indonesian-made FN copy, the 5.56mm SS1, M16A1, AK-47, Steyr, and FNFAL. Tactical shotguns are also used and recoilless rifles, including the 84mm Carl Gustav.
Known operations: Hijacking of Garuda flight GA 206 on March 28, 1981. The DC-9 "Woyla" was hijacked on route from Palembang to Medan and ordered to fly to Sri Lanka. Low on fuel, the jet proceeded to Bangkok where newly trained Kopassus commandos stormed the aircraft and freed all hostages.
Kopassus has been accused of involvement in numerous human rights abuses stemming from operations in Aceh, Maluku, West Papua and East Timor.