Subject: To Win US Military Help, Indonesia Performs Human Rights Balancing Act

Indonesia performs human rights balancing act to win US military help

By Victor Tjahjadi

JAKARTA, July 3 (AFP) -- A delicate balancing act of resisting international concern over past atrocities while appealing for foreign military help has begun to pay off for Indonesia with Washington on course to revive ties frozen due to human rights violations.

Last week the US House of Representatives agreed to lift military aid restrictions to Jakarta that were imposed in 1991 in response to Indonesian military violence in its 1999 breakaway province of East Timor.

Although the 20.3-billion-dollar foreign aid bill, under which Indonesia is eligible for help, has yet to win Senate approval and be signed by US President George W. Bush, the Congressional green light removes a major obstacle.

Yet, even as it rubs its hands in anticipation, Jakarta is facing renewed demands to account for its actions in East Timor, with UN experts calling for Indonesian alleged rights abusers to face an international tribunal.

If Indonesia succeeds in winning military aid from the United States, it will mark a major coup for new President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who visited Washington in May on a charm offensive aimed at lifting the restrictions.

It will also help smooth relations between America and the world's largest Muslim-populated nation, the scene of several major militant attacks, at a time when support for the US-led war on terror is floundering.

Yudhoyono's government successfully salved the concerns of Congress by cooperating with an FBI probe into the killings of two US citizens in Papua in 2002, after which the concerns over East Timor have apparently been sidelined.

Indonesia's Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono told AFP last week that he "positively welcomed" the move by the House of Representatives, however the move has angered rights campaigners.

"The passing of the bill shows that the US is inconsistent with the decision-making of their foreign policy," said Hendardi, chairman of the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association.

"They claimed that the embargo was part of their pledge to uphold human rights, yet, the endorsement of the bill is clear evidence of their own political and economic interests," he told AFP.

Key to the concerns of rights campaigners is Jakarta's failure to jail any senior officials over the violence in which pro-Indonesian militia gangs -- allegedly directed by Indonesian army officers -- ran amok in East Timor.

They killed about 1,400 independence supporters in the former Portuguese colony, laid waste to much of the infrastructure and forcibly deported 250,000 people after the poll resulted in an overwhelming vote for separation.

Last week, a UN Commission of Experts panel report said an Indonesian rights court used to try senior officials was "manifestly inadequate" and "shows scant respect for -- or conformity to -- relevant international standards".

Human rights trials held in Indonesia to try those responsible, and deflect UN calls for a proper tribunal, ended last year after acquitting all but one of the 18 security officers and officials who appeared before them.

With both Dili and Jakarta keen to turn a corner on their troubled past, Indonesia insists it is justified in seeking a restoration of military help, particularly as it attempts to rebuild in the wake of last year's tsunami.

"What we need is the full revocation of the embargo for spare parts for our defence equipment manufactured in or outsourced from the United States," Defence Minister Sudarsono told AFP in an interview.

He criticised rights groups and the UN panel for their relentless pressure over East Timor, saying that they were wrongly attributing blame for the violence, after which Indonesia had done its best to deliver justice.

"They are too fixated on what they deem gross violations of human rights. We have explained to them that absence of power was the cause of the mayhem and destruction in East Timor," he said.

Sudarsono defended the outcome of the trials, blaming Indonesia's lack of funds to carry out judicial investigations and absence of a mechanism to bring East Timorese witnesses to Jakarta.

"The logistics of our justice, particularly the (mechanism) for full-accountable justice, are things that we do not have," he said.

"We cannot provide that because we don't have the judiciary logistical basis to undergo such an undertaking of full accounting. It's not for lack of trying, politically. It's just the logistics of it," Sudarsono argued.

He said the creation of a joint panel established by Indonesia with East Timor -- or the Commission of Truth and Friendship -- was a "better" solution for both countries to reconcile their past differences.

But, says the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network, a human rights group, any attempt by Indonesia to deal with its past also fails to address concerns over current military action, particularly against separatist rebels in tsunami-hit Aceh.

"Indonesia's armed forces have not met existing congressional conditions," said Karen Orenstein of the Washington-based group.

"The action, just six months after the tsunami devastated Aceh, represents a slap in the face for survivors who continue to be victimized by the Indonesian military."

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