Subject: NGO Urges US Govt Not To Lift Kopassus Embargo

March 13, 2010

Markus Junianto Sihaloho

NGO Urges US Govt Not To Lift Kopassus Embargo

Human Rights Watch has called on the US government to rethink any plans to lift a 12-year ban on training the Indonesian Army's Special Forces, stressing that training should only be conducted if Indonesia takes sufficient steps toward accountability and reform to deter future abuses.

Referring to an article by the Washington Post on Mar. 2, Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at HRW, said on Friday that the Obama administration had floated a plan to test a training program for younger members of the Indonesian Special Forces, also known as Kopassus.

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 ban will only be lifted if the government takes adequate legal steps to deal with the officers allegedly involved in human rights abuses.

The Washington Post article, according to Richardson, states that five high-ranking Kopassus officers, including its Commander, Maj. Gen. Lodewijk Paulus, recently visited Washington, trying to secure the lifting of the ban.

"US training for Kopassus could someday improve its human rights performance but only if those trained have a real incentive to stop committing abuses," Richardson said.

Deputy Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin acknowledged that the visit had occurred, according to news portal He was quoted as saying that "the purpose of their visit is to seek normalization of relations with Washington. We will convince them about the progress we have made in processing rights perpetrators ... and that Kopassus has gone through a process of reform."

In letters to US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, HRW says Indonesia has not done enough to settle past human rights abuses allegedly committed by Kopassus. She said they were particularly concerned about the appointment of Sjafrie as deputy defense minister, as he has been implicated in several alleged human rights abuses, including during the East Timor mayhem of 1999.

Sjafrie's was denied a US visa in November amid speculation that he was turned away because he was the Jakarta military commander during the 1997-98 unrest when 22 pro-democracy activists disappeared. Nine of them were later released and gave accounts of torture at the hands of the military but 13 remain missing.

Former Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono said that in October 2009, he spoke about the matter with US Senator Patrick Leahy, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the State Department and Foreign Operations. Juwono stressed there was no evidence that Sjafrie was involved in East Timor atrocities, the 1997-1998 abduction case or the shooting of students in September 1999.

However, Leahy was quoted by the Washington Post as saying that: "we know there are some who favor resuming aid to Kopassus, but US law requires the government of Indonesia to take effective measures to bring Kopassus members to justice."

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