Subject: Indonesian military reformed? Hardly...

The Straits Times (Singapore)

Friday, September 12, 2008

ST Forum

Indonesian military reformed? Hardly...

Edmund McWilliams Retired Foreign Service Officer, US

MR JOHN McBeth's piece ('US policy on Indonesia outdated', Aug 9) misportrays concern in the United States Congress about the importance of basic standards for US assistance to the Indonesian military (TNI), especially for its notorious Special Forces (Kopassus). Contrary to his contention that this concern is limited to a few key legislators, concern with TNI violations of human rights and its impunity, corruption and resistance to civilian control is broadly shared and bipartisan.

While Mr McBeth's lack of familiarity with Washington's legislative process might be explained by his distance from those realities, his efforts to portray TNI as a reformed, or even reforming, institution are mystifying.

Despite remarkable democratic progress in Indonesian society as a whole, TNI remains a rogue institution. Its senior active-duty and retired officials remain immune from prosecution for egregious human-rights crimes and corruption. Individuals indicted for crimes against humanity by the United Nations-backed special crimes unit in Timor Leste, despite outstanding international warrants, remain free. Some have even been promoted.

Human-rights activists in West Papua and elsewhere who try to tell their stories to UN officials are threatened. A visiting member of the US Congress, accompanied by the US Ambassador, suffered severe restrictions that prevented him from meeting most Papuans, even Papuan officials. Progress towards dismantling TNI's massive business empire - which includes narcotics and human trafficking and shakedown operations run by TNI-backed militias, some involving Islamist radicals - is stymied by TNI resistance.

Congressional concern with all of this is justified and based on the facts. While Senator Patrick Leahy is a leader in shaping that consensus, efforts to target him and others as recalcitrant or isolated grossly underestimate congressional concern for, and awareness of, past and present realities in Indonesia. It also disserves Indonesia by diverting attention from the urgent need for reform and accountability within the military.


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