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105th Congress Supports Freedom for East Timor

For Immediate Release October 21, 1998

The East Timor Action Network (ETAN) praised Congress for taking major steps to support freedom for Indonesian-occupied East Timor. Significantly, several provisions of the massive omnibus appropriations bill make clear that Congress does not consider East Timor a legitimate part of Indonesia. The Congressional action takes place amidst reports of a major military build-up and offensive in East Timor and a renewed wave of protest opposing Indonesian rule over the territory.

The Omnibus Appropriations Act of 1998, passed today by the Senate and yesterday by the House of Representatives, bans the use of U.S.-supplied weapons in East Timor and forbids IMET (International Military Education and Training) aid to the Indonesian armed forces (ABRI). The omnibus bill, which reconciles the Senate and House versions of the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, also expresses congressional outrage at the training of Indonesian soldiers under a different program, JCET (Joint Combined Exchange Training) and calls for a detailed report of all overseas military training to foreign militaries conducted or planned by the Pentagon.

The bill supports an internationally-supervised referendum by the East Timorese on their political status.

"This could be the most support any Congress has shown for East Timorese rights of East Timorese rights since Indonesia first invaded in 1975," said Lynn Fredriksson, Washington Representative for ETAN. "This bill makes clear to President Habibie and the Indonesian military that the occupation of East Timor is unacceptable to Congress, and that Congress wants to see a just and peaceful end to the military occupation that has claimed over 200,000 East Timorese lives."

The legislation requires that any agreement to sell weapons to Indonesia "state that the United States expects that the items will not be used in East Timor."

The manager's statement accompanying the appropriations bill expresses full congressional support for "an internationally...supervised referendum to determine a comprehensive settlement of the political status of East Timor." This has been the central demand of the East Timorese since before Indonesian troops invaded and occupied their country in 1975.

The bill continues the ban on IMET, allowing only expanded IMET. Expanded IMET is supposed to be restricted to classroom training in matters such as civilian-military relations.

The accompanying language also says that Congress was "very disturbed" that ABRI had received military training through JCET, calling the training "certainly inconsistent with the ‘spirit' " of the IMET ban. Congress emphasized that "at the present time all military training for Indonesia should be limited only to expanded IMET."

The appropriations bill calls for a detailed report of all overseas military training to foreign militaries conducted or planned by the Pentagon. This provision resulted from the controversy over JCET training of the Indonesian military revealed by ETAN and others earlier this year.

Read provisions in the bill.

In other congressional actions this year:

  • In the FY 1999 Defense Appropriations bill, Congress withheld funding from training programs involving units guilty of human rights violations. This provision also resulted from the controversy surrounding ongoing training of Indonesian troops, despite a congressional ban.
  • On July 10, the Senate unanimously passed Senate Resolution 237. The resolution urges the Clinton administration to "work actively, through the United Nations and with United States allies, ... to support an internationally supervised referendum on self-determination."