Subject: AT/IPS: U.S. Seeks to Resume Indonesian Training (Kopassus)

also RI Aims At Resolution Of Military Ban In US Partnership: Ministry

Asia Times/Inter Press Service Saturday, March 6, 2010

U.S. Seeks to Resume Indonesian Training

By Charles Fromm

WASHINGTON - The administration of President Barack Obama hopes to resume United States training of an elite Indonesian military unit whose members have been convicted of gross human-rights abuses in East Timor and elsewhere in the sprawling archipelago.

The leaders of Indonesia's controversial special forces division - the Komando Pasukan Khusus, or Kopassus - were in Washington to discuss the proposal this week.

Its meetings come ahead of President Barack Obama's state visit to Indonesia later this month. The trip will launch "The US-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership" - a bilateral strategy to enhance security and economic cooperation between the two countries.

"In the next few months, the US State Department will conduct a review of the ban [indicating] that military-to-military relations will be restored ... to allow Kopassus officers to be trained in the United States," former defense minister Juwono Sudarsono told the Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

Under the so-called Leahy law, first approved in 1997, Washington is banned from providing training or other kinds of assistance to any foreign military unit if there is "credible evidence" that it has committed "gross violations of human rights". The ban can be waived if the secretary of state certifies that the relevant foreign government is "taking effective measures" to bring to justice responsible members of the unit.

Kopassus has become notorious for the brutal tactics it began to employ in the 1970s, particularly in East Timor, Aceh, Papua and Java. Various human-rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the East Timor Action Network, have accused the unit of murder, torture and kidnapping among other egregious rights abuses.

The plan to resume US training, however, proposes to limit participation to younger members of Kopassus as their age would make it more likely that they had not participated in the group's most notorious abuses.

The new efforts to engage the Indonesian military follow Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's comments last week at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting that the administration hoped to expand its military partnership with Indonesia and enhance counter-terrorism cooperation.

However, this policy is not without opposition. Critics argue that Kopassus continues to commit serious abuses with impunity and that restoring a cooperative relationship could actually prove counter-productive.

"US military assistance harms reform and sets back human-rights accountability in Indonesia," said John M Miller, national coordinator of the East Timor Action Network.

"The best way to prevent future violations is to hold accountable those responsible for the multitude of human-rights crimes committed by the Indonesian military in East Timor, West Papua and elsewhere. Many of these crimes occurred while the US was most deeply engaged with the Indonesian military, providing the bulk of its weapons and training," he added.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, sent an open letter to the White House late last month in which he called for Obama to "seize this opportunity to reaffirm that human rights and the rule of law are essential pillars of US engagement in Indonesia".

Roth also asked him to "condition even limited re-engagement with Kopassus" on the firing "of any personnel previously convicted for human-rights abuses", and the establishment of a tribunal to thoroughly investigate the disappearance of some two dozen student activists in 1997 and 1998. Rights groups have charged that Kopassus units were responsible.

He also called for wide-ranging structural reforms to enhance civilian control of the military in all realms, from the jurisdiction of military tribunals to the vast military-run businesses that exercise a major influence in the Indonesian economy, particularly in resource-rich regions such as Papua.

The push to renew US training of Kopassus units constitutes the latest developments in a gradual rapprochement between the US and Indonesia's military, the Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI).

Washington first began heavily supporting Indonesia's army in the late 1950s. Since then, the military has long been seen, especially by the Pentagon, as the one effective - if corrupt and often brutal - national institution in an archipelago that spreads across thousands of kilometers and includes hundreds of islands.

After a massacre by Indonesian troops of more than 100 demonstrators in East Timor in 1991, the US Congress cut off Indonesia's eligibility for International Military Education and Training programs and for buying certain kinds of "lethal" military equipment.

When the TNI, Kopassus and their local auxiliaries rampaged through East Timor after its electorate voted to secede from Indonesia in 1999, the administration of former president Bill Clinton severed all remaining ties with TNI, but then quietly restored contacts the following year.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon, the administration of former president George W Bush tried to circumvent the ban on providing some support for the TNI by providing limited counter-terrorism-related assistance, albeit not to Kopassus. Bolstered by the 2002 bombing attack on a nightclub in Bali that killed nearly 200 people, it argued that Indonesia's territory was being used by al-Qaeda affiliates.

The following year the administration released funds for training a limited number of TNI officers, despite strong objections from congress, which had demanded that Jakarta first investigate the killing of two US teachers in Papua and bring the perpetrators to justice. The ban on Kopassus, however, remained in effect, due to the Leahy Law.

In 2005, Washington repealed its arms embargo on Jakarta and military-to-military ties have steadily increased since then.

The Obama administration sees much to gain by enhancing military ties with Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation and the largest economy in Southeast Asia. The strategically located archipelago has critical sea-lanes and an historic distrust of China that has long made it a desirable partner for containing Beijing.

In recent years the US has found itself vying with China for influence in the region. The Chinese government's "non-interference policy" of funding development and infrastructure projects in Southeast Asia - without conditioning such assistance on compliance with human rights or other "good governance" criteria - has helped to expand its influence.

On Thursday, Indonesia's Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro told Reuters that his forces in the Malacca Strait would be on increased alert following a warning by the Singapore navy of a possible terrorist attack against oil tankers traveling through the channel.

Piracy has long plagued the waterway, but a terrorist attack could have serious economic repercussions in surrounding areas. The strait contains "choke points", or narrow passages that, if obstructed, could easily create bottlenecks for commercial and energy flows from the Indian Ocean to the Sea of Japan, according to the US Energy Information Administration.


The Jakarta Post

Friday, March 5, 2010

RI Aims At Resolution Of Military Ban In US Partnership: Ministry

Lilian Budianto, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Jakarta is seeking a "long-term political commitment" with Washington to resolve pending issues in the comprehensive partnership that leaders of both countries will launch this month, the Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

"In the comprehensive partnership, we'll identify problems we've encountered, including the ban on [US training for Army Special Forces] Kopassus," Retno L. P. Marsudi, the ministry's director general for American and European affairs, said after a press conference with the visiting Dutch economic minister.

"The comprehensive partnership is an impetus for both parties to enhance relations, and we have communicated well so far."

Under the Leahy Law, the entire Kopassus unit is banned from receiving US military education or training, following allegations of their involvement in a number of atrocities in restive provinces.

The law says the ban will only be lifted if the Indonesian government takes adequate legal steps to prosecute implicated officers.

Jakarta has been lobbying Washington to lift the ban, which is also believed to include bans on several generals from entering the US.

Former defense minister Juwono Sudarsono said Tuesday that Washington was close to lifting the ban as the ban's main sponsor, Sen. Patrick Leahy, had "accepted" Jakarta's progress in investigating officers accused of rights abuses.

Retno said the comprehensive partnership did not set out a specific target for the resolution of pending issues, saying that both countries would seek long-term commitment for good relations.

"We haven't set a target because that would be short term," she said.

"We're seeking long-term commitment for relations. We've identified the problems in bilateral relations as well as future challenges and possible solutions.

"The comprehensive partnership is a political declaration for closer relations, not an agreement."

The comprehensive partnership, first proposed by Jakarta in 2008, will be launched during the visit by US President Barack Obama to Indonesia on March 22.

It covers a wide area of cooperation, including economic, climate change, health, education and defense.

Jakarta and Washington have also negotiated a new cooperation on health following the closure of the US Navy's Naval Medical Research Unit (Namru-2) laboratory in Jakarta. Namru was closed down after Jakarta and Washington failed to agree on its operational procedure, including on diplomatic immunity sought by Washington for US staff working at the lab.

Retno said the points of cooperation on a new civilian biomedical research lab, the Indonesia-United States Center for Medical Research, were still being discussed, with reciprocating visits by US and Indonesian negotiators having taken place.

She declined to elaborate on the pending points on the negotiations, saying the joint research highlighted lab cooperation, and adding, "We haven't reached a deal on that."

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