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Statement by Allan Nairn on the suspension of US military training aid to Indonesia

May 9, 1998

Yesterday (May 8), retreating under heavy political fire, the US Department of Defense announced the indefinite suspension of its Joint Combined Exchange and Training (JCET) exercises for the Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI).

This is a breakthrough victory for the pro-democracy movement -- both in Indonesia and occupied East Timor and here in the United States. But it is not enough. The JCET training has not yet been formally terminated and banned, and the US still arms, advises, finances, and politically comforts the ABRI. Washington, the ABRI's longtime patron, should now renounce this killer force. At a time when brave Indonesians and East Timorese are risking their lives to demand freedom, the US should not be supporting in any form an institution devoted to suppressing them.

Until the JCET program was exposed and then brought down by grassroots activism, the US military was training the ABRI -- and its most notorious unit , KOPASSUS -- in lethal tactics including "Advanced Sniper Techniques," "Military Operations in Urban Terrain," "Psychological Operations," "Air Assault." and "Close Quarters Combat." US Green Berets, Marines, and Air Force commandos would fly into Indonesia fully armed and drill ABRI troops in exercises lasting two to six weeks. There were at least 41 such exercises between 1992 and 1997, and 20 more scheduled for 1998.

This training was in violation of an Executive Branch understanding with Congress, which had cut off IMET (International Military Education and Training) training aid to ABRI after the 1991 East Timor massacre, and which believed that ABRI was now only eligible for limited, US-based classroom instruction (called Expanded IMET) ostensibly stressing human rights.

When the JCET program was exposed in March (in an article in The Nation [US] magazine and then in a Washington press conference by the East Timor Action Network [ETAN] and Rep. Lane Evans, [D, Illinois], with Reps. Nancy Pelosi [D, California], Patrick Kennedy [D, Rhode Island], Chris Smith [R, New Jersey] , and others), many in Congress reacted with outrage. Megawati Sukarno, the Indonesian pro-democracy leader, wrote immediately to President Clinton saying that "military training from the U.S. directly undermines the democratic movement in Indonesia."

ETAN and Justice for All launched a US campaign for a JCET cutoff. In visits to some 150 Congressional offices last week we found widespread bipartisan support. Even longtime apologists for Suharto said they would not fight the proposal.

Last Wednesday, May 6, Rep. Lowey and 21 initial cosponsors introduced HR3802 to terminate ABRI's JCET training (the bill says that any country banned from receiving IMET is also ineligible for other forms of US military training).

On Thursday, May 7, Rep. Smith (R, New Jersey), Chairman of the International Operations and Human Rights Subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee, held a widely attended, heavily covered hearing in which Indonesian and Timorese activists (Jaffar Siddiq Hamzah, Pius Lustrilanang, "Aryati" [a pseudonym], and Constancio Pinto) described ABRI terror firsthand and called for JCET and IMF cutoffs.

Although the Pentagon and State Department were invited to the hearing to defend the JCET program, they declined to appear. The next day, March 8, they announced the JCET suspension.

The suspension is clearly an effort to preempt an embarrassing JCET defeat in Congress and to help salvage the endangered $14.5 billion IMF replenishment bill. The administration, under fire from some in Congress for bailing out a repressive regime, is now attempting to justify its continued financing of Suharto and his army by claiming that the JCET suspension adequately addresses human rights concerns.

The IMF money will help enable Suharto and his ABRI henchmen to stay in power. And it will free up funds that they can use to purchase lethal training elsewhere. At the same time, the US continues to sell ABRI new weapons and spare parts, and to counsel them in strategy and tactics with the message that, as a one US official put it to me "the US is close to and loves the army."

This message has devastating consequences for Indonesia's hopes for freedom. As Aryati put it in her May 7 Congressional testimony: "the only force that the military appears to feel accountable to is the US government. You [the US] greatly determine whether the Indonesian government receives economic aid from the IMF and political legitimacy in international forums such as the United Nations. I can assure you that the Suharto regime, feeling entirely uncountable to the Indonesian people, does feel beholden to the US government. It panics on seeing any sign of displeasure with it here in Washington."

In one respect, the suspension of JCET is a great victory for it is certain to disconcert ABRI and Suharto as they see their Washington lifeline fray and as they see that grassroots forces have shown fast-increasing political clout.

Not least, it must be frightening to Gen. Wiranto, Gen. Prabowo and the other ABRI leaders as they realize that those who dealt them this defeat are -- most of all -- the very people whom they have been futilely attempting to "cut to pieces" (in the words of Gen. Feisal Tanjung, now Coordinating Minister for Political Affairs and Security ) and consign to silence.

Constancio Pinto survived torture by the US-trained KOPASSUS to tell his story to the US Congress. Pius Lustrilanang did so just weeks after emerging from a secret torture center from which he was freed as the result of a pressure campaign by fellow activists. And tens of thousands of Indonesian students and workers, in the streets, put their stories on the world's front pages. This, inspiring and joining with international activism, is what has stopped the JCET training.

But this victory will be of little significance unless it is followed by further work that fully severs US complicity with Suharto and the ABRI. At a minimum, Congress should oppose the IMF bailout of Suharto and end all US weapons and spare parts sales and enact a ban on any other form of training or technical support that US agencies might give ABRI.

And while ending Washington's shameful sponsorship of ABRI, Congress can begin to restore decency by endorsing a UN-sponsored referendum -- a free election -- for occupied East Timor (as provided for in HConRes 258 by Reps. Lowey, Lantos [D, California], Smith, Porter [R, Illinois], and 32 cosponsors).

There is no need for the US to "intervene" for freedom in Indonesia and Timor. It merely has to stop arming, training, and financing the dictator and the army that crush it.

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Allan Nairn broke the story of JCET training for ABRI in a Nation magazine piece released March 11 ("Indonesia's Killers," published in issue dated March 30, 1998). After holding a Jakarta press conference on the issue he was detained by ABRI police intelligence, interrogated, and deported from Indonesia (Nairn, with Amy Goodman of WBAI/Pacifica radio, was banned from Indonesia and occupied East Timor as a "threat to national security" after surviving and reporting the November 12, 1991 East Timor massacre). He is active in the East Timor Action Network (ETAN) and is currently organizing Justice for All, a grassroots group for human rights and economic justice.

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