Subject: BG: VT College Cuts Ties with Indonesian Military

Also: Norwich Severs Ties With Indonesia by Terry Allen

The Boston Globe December 21, 1999, Tuesday


In an about-face, the president of Norwich University, a private military college in Vermont, announced yesterday that the college would "sever all formal ties with the Indonesian government."

The decision by Richard Schneider dismantles a two-year-old program for Indonesian students that came under fire this fall, against the backdrop of a brutal Jakarta-backed crackdown on civilians in East Timor. The students' tuition was paid by the Indonesian government through its military attache in Washington, D.C. In October, when the Globe first reported the connection, Schneider maintained that excluding the Indonesian students would amount to unfair discrimination. But Schneider changed his mind last weekend, decreeing that the school would no longer accept payments from the Indonesian military.

The 11 undergraduates who are funded by the Indonesian government will remain on campus, but their tuition will be paid through "alternative sources of funding," Schneider said. Norwich will also establish scholarships for two students from East Timor, "to demonstrate our commitment to helping the world's newest nation as it sets about the onerous task of nation-building."

Word spread quickly yesterday among the faculty members who have been trying to draw the administration's attention to human rights abuses in East Timor.

"I feel great. I feel stunned," said Mitch Hall, who is director of the school's International Student Office and has been one of the most vocal opponents of the cooperative program. "I think it's a tremendous leap forward, and I think it's right."

Over the coming months, a university commission will lay new ground rules for international students - with a focus on when and how a government's human rights record should affect a foreign student's application.

Until spring, when the panel delivers a report on international admissions, the school will not accept any more students from the Indonesian military. However, university spokesman Tom Greene said there was "unanimous support" on campus for the continued attendance of the undergraduates currently enrolled.

"If they applied again, we'd accept them again," he said. "They've been great students."

Mark Byrnes, one of the professors who argued for the changes, said he and his colleagues never objected to Indonesian students.

"Our criticism was never that there are Indonesian students here," said Byrnes, who teaches in Norwich's history department. "We objected to the fact that there seemed to be this institutional relationship."

The Norwich -Indonesia program was set up in 1997 after an exchange of visits between Norwich officials and two Indonesian generals. The generals were members of Kopassus, the Indonesian Army's elite special forces.

After the East Timorese independence vote Aug. 30 triggered a brutal military crackdown in the capital, Dili, President Clinton issued a ban on US support for the Indonesian military. Because the students were civilians, and because Norwich is a private institution, the university was not bound by that ban, Greene said.

Last weekend, Schneider decided to discontinue the program after months of dismay over the growing split between the Indonesian military and the civilian government, Greene said. Schneider had "wanted to see how the Indonesian military would react" after the referendum, and became discouraged by what he saw, Greene said.

END ------ [Note: A version of this will appear in In These Times shortly.}

Norwich Severs Ties With Indonesia I Quit. You're Fired Dec. 21, 1999

By Terry J. Allen

In a stunning turn around, Norwich University announced Monday that it "is severing all formal ties with the Indonesian military ...[and] will no longer accept payments" for students to attend the country's's only private military college.

Norwich had previously defended its relationship with the Indonesian military by saying the training would spread American values and thereby help the Indonesian army break its decades-long pattern of human rights abuses. Schneider had further insisted that turning away the Indonesians would amount to "discrimination" against individuals.

By severing ties, said faculty member Mark Byrnes, Norwich "has finally admitted that there was an institutional relationship between the Indonesian army and the University. That was always our problem with the program and now President Richard Schneider has addressed it." he said. "I feel as if Christmas has come five days early."

Although the Norwich announcement marks a dramatic change, it is in part symbolic. The program had already become a causualty of power and economic shifts in Indonesia and no new students have applied in the last few years.

Furthermore, according to Gen. Dadi Susento, defense attache at the Indonesian embassy in Washington, the military had already cut off funds to the Norwich students in September. The move followed President Clinton's order that the U.S. suspend all cooperation with the Indonesian military. "By that decision, we were not able to send any more [money to the Norwich students]."

Susento said he communicated that decision in September to the head of the university's military graduate program, Professor Fariborz Mokhtari , who once served in the army of the Shah of Iran. Tom Greene, Norwich spokesperson, denied that President Schneider was aware that the Indonesians had already cut of funding. On Tuesday, Greene also said that the University had yet to inform the Indonesian Embassy of the severing of relations. According to Susento, however, Mokhtari informed the embassy on Monday. "I was surprised and disappointed," said the attache, "because Indonesia needs officers who understand the value of democracy and human rights."

Schneider explained that he decided to cut ties after realizing that the Indonesian military was not really interested in reform. "This army has not demonstrated a commitment to ... respect for civilian authority by the military," he wrote.

Faculty member Mitch Hall commended the change of policy, but noted that "The weight of evidence has been there all along. It was pressure from those who spoke out that changed the balance and showed the university that it was in its self-interest to do the right thing."

In Oct. the Boston Globe reported that at least four Indonesian Norwich graduates had served in East Timor around the time of the independence referendum when the army rampaged through the small country. An additional 11 Indonesian undergraduates, currently enrolled at Norwich, listed their address as headquarters of Kopassus--the elite special forces notorious for brutality.

The Norwich Indonesia program was set up in 1997 by Schneider after a trip to Indonesia where he and Mokhtari met with high military officials, some of whom had close ties to Kopassus. Two of the generals, A.M. Hendropriyono and Anwar Zacky--both of whom have been implicated in gross human rights abuses--visited Norwich.

In its press release, Norwich announced that it will seek alternative funding for the current crop of Indonesian students and will "also offer Cadet scholarships for two students from East Timor. ... [to] demonstrate our commitment to helping the world's newest nation as it sets about the onerous [sic] task of nation building."

Schneider also announced the establishment of two committees to look into setting guidelines for future international admissions. Ciritcs look to the composition of that panel as a measure of the university's commitment. Faculty member Michael Sherman encouraged Norwich to include representatives from Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch. "They have experience of how research issues of human rights and can give guidance on how to establish criteria, he said. "Otherwise, there is too much room for error."

John Miller of the East Timor Action Network praised the University's turnaround, but noted that "the Indonesian military's well-documented record of abuses in East Timor and Indonesia has long been available," he said. "Norwich can help East Timor by pressing its friends in the Indonesian military to end collusion between the military and its militias and to disarm and disband all militia groups now preventing East Timorese from returning home."

Terry J. Allen

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