Subject: RI Wooing U.S. Congress to Block TNI Aid-Cutting Proposal

The Jakarta Post

Saturday, June 9, 2007

RI Wooing U.S. Congress to Block Aid-Cutting Proposal

Abdul Khalik, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The Indonesian Embassy in Washington is lobbying lawmakers in the U.S. Congress in an effort to block a proposal to restrict U.S. aid to the Indonesian Military (TNI) over alleged violations of human rights.

The lobbying was launched in anticipation of efforts by Democrat Congresswoman Nita Lowey, head of the powerful Appropriations Sub-committee, to block military funding to the TNI.

Indonesian Foreign Ministry director for North and Central America Harry Purwanto acknowledged Friday that the House had discussed the proposal from Lowey, a New York congresswoman, to cut 25 percent of military aid to Indonesia.

"We have formed a special task force in Washington to deal with the issue. We've been approaching many lawmakers in the Congress for some time. Many lawmakers expressed their support to us. That's why we are quite confident that the proposal will not get support form other lawmakers," he told The Jakarta Post.

Harry added Indonesia was confident because Lowey was almost alone in her stance and the proposal was far from becoming law.

Singapore's Straits Times reported from Washington that the House Appropriations Sub-committee on Foreign Operations was debating Lowey's ideas on Tuesday. Details of its deliberations have yet to be made public, it said.

The new proposal still has several congressional rounds to go through before becoming a law by September.

Observers noted that Lowey has traditionally held a hostile view of the Indonesian military, influenced by human rights activists who link aid to the issue.

Their main complaint is the lack of progress in prosecuting senior TNI officers such as former military chief, Gen. (ret) Wiranto, for his alleged complicity in the violence that followed the 1999 independence referendum in East Timor (now Timor Leste).

Concerns were further heightened after the killing of the country's noted human rights campaigner Munir last year.

Indonesian Defense Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Edy Butar Butar said that Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono had briefed members of the Congress in May about the progress of Indonesian military reforms during the present government.

"I don't know why the issue is still floating," he told the Post.

At the recent Shangri-La Dialog in Singapore, Edy said, Juwono also met with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and both came out with a joint declaration.

The declaration "stressed the importance of encouraging ongoing reforms undertaken by Indonesia's military, a crucial and inseparable part of democratic reforms".

Beside Lowey in Congress, Harry said, Jakarta is also watching several senators, including Democrat's Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Sub-committee for Foreign Operations and the author of the legislation tying military to human rights violations in East Timor as well as Eni Faleomavaega, a Samoan and staunch supporter of Papuan independence.

Many fear, especially the Pentagon and White House, that if the proposal became law it would damage U.S.-Indonesia relations.

"If there are restrictions and they do become law, it will seriously hurt our relations. It will show that America is inconsistent especially when the TNI has shown some improvement and strengthen the hand of those opposed to the U.S.," a Pentagon official told The Straits Times.

Meanwhile, TNI chief Air Chief Marshal Djoko Suyanto was quoted as saying by the news portal that he was aware of the embargo rumors but not concerned.

"What's important for us is to manage our own weapons in order to be independent. Then we can continue our commitment to go on with our democratization. The TNI is not like it used to be," Djoko said at the State Palace on Friday.

At various times since the early 1990s, Washington has curtailed or completely cut off military training in Indonesia. The ties were scaled back further after the East Timor imbroglio, with the U.S. imposing a ban on weapons sales and aid to the TNI.

That ban was lifted in 2005 after intense lobbying by the Bush administration, which regarded Indonesia as a key ally in the war on terror.

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