Subject: Radio Australia: US Plans To Resume Training Of Indonesia's Kopassus Forces

Radio Australia Tuesday, March 9, 2010

US Plans To Resume Training Of Indonesia's Kopassus Forces

The United States is considering resuming the training of the Indonesian military's special forces, Kopassus. But several groups have raised concerns over the plan because of Kopassus' suspected violation of human rights in the past.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speakers: John Miller, national coordinator, East Timor and Indonesia Action network

MILLER: Under US law we're not supposed to train units that have unresolved human rights violations and Kopassus has many of those.

LAM: Isn't part of that philosophy behind the training though that the US might impart some measure of professionalism and therefore perhaps encourage them to respect and observe human rights?

MILLER: Well history with Kopassus with the Indonesian military shows the exact opposite. When the US was most engaged and we only began to restrict military assistance in the 90s, was when the Indonesian military was at its worst, West Papua, it had a coup under Suharto, it invaded East Timor. So if that's what US training was meant to do it certainly failed at that goal.

LAM: Do you know why the Obama administration is considering resuming that training?

MILLER: We've been puzzling over that. It's the last kind of blanket restriction that the US has on engaging with the Indonesian military of post-1999 restrictions were lifted by Congress in our previous administrations, and as near as we can tell it's because Indonesia wants what the Indonesian military wants and they see it as a symbol of US approval for the limited reforms that have happened in the Indonesian military.

LAM: And John Miller I understand that the initial offer of training is likely to involve a unit within Kopassus which focuses on fighting terrorism. Now in the current post-9/11 climate, isn't such cooperation a good thing in terms of security?

MILLER: Well the US has been cooperating with the Indonesian police and anybody that knows counter-terrorism successes in Indonesia they have been largely as a result of police action. And our concern is that by training Kopassus that it will actually reinforce an internal military role for the Indonesian military, and really set back the strengthening of civilian rule, of civilian activity and kind of give a US approval to the Indonesian military, in particular Kopassus continuing to be engaged internally in Indonesia, and Indonesian history shows that that's been a disaster for the Indonesian people.

LAM: And John Miller the East Timor and Indonesia Action network, your organisation ETAN, speaks of criminal activity within Kopassus. What is this alleged criminal activity?

MILLER: Well as Australians would be well familiar with the killing of the journalists at Balibo in 1975, that was done by soldiers within Kopassus, to the exit of Indonesia from East Timor in 1999, Kopassus officers were heavily involved and orchestrated destruction and training of militia, to last summer Human Rights Watch released a report about Kopassus units in West Papua illegally arresting and harassing residents in the highlands of West Papua. So it's a very long history and most of those rights abuses are unresolved and in the few that have actually gone to court, such as the kidnapping of students in 1997 and 98, even where soldiers were actually convicted in court, many of them are still serving today in Kopassus.

LAM: And what's your assessment of Kopassus today, certainly in the decade since the fall of the new order regime, do you think it's improved its human rights record somewhat?

MILLER: Well I think overall the Indonesian military is a bit more careful about current violations and will occassionally prosecute a particularly low level soldier to show that they care about human rights. But the higher ups still get away with ordering human rights violations and many of these past violations remain unresolved and we've always felt and Congress used to say that Indonesia shouldn't get US military training and assistance until it's showed it had taken care of not just ended current human rights violations, but taken care of and credibly prosecuted those responsible for past ones.

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