Subject: Indonesia's President Wants Stronger Post-Tsunami Military [+Analyses]

also: Analysis: Analysis - Asia's Tsunami Builds Global Military Ties; Shadow of Iraq looms over well-received U.S. military operation to aid tsunami victims

Agence France-Presse Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Indonesia's president wants stronger post-tsunami military

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he wants his country to have a stronger and better equipped military to be able to deal with events such as the tsunami disaster.

Indonesia's armed forces, frequently criticised for human rights abuses despite losing much of the power they once wielded under former dictator Suharto, struggled to cope in the tsunami aftermath, relying on foreign help.

"We are being challenged to build stronger armed forces," Yudhoyono was quoted as saying by the state Antara news agency.

"If we had a stronger military, we could have done a lot more," he added.

Foreign military warships and aircraft proved crucial in efforts to bring aid to survivors of the December 26 disaster stranded on remote coastlines, although fiercely independent Indonesia has encouraged them to leave swiftly.

Yudhoyono also said that a military offensive to crush a long-running separatist rebellion in Aceh prior to the disaster could also have been more successful had soldiers been better equipped.

"If our troops had had adequate weaponry, communication equipment and mobility means surely we would have been able to pursue GAM better," he said, referring to the rebel Free Aceh Movement by their Indonesian acronym.

His statement on the rebels comes at a delicate time as government ministers head to Finland for talks with the separatists aimed at securing a truce to allow humanitarian work in Aceh to continue unhindered.

Yudhoyono said Indonesia must improve capability to produce military equipment to reduce dependency on foreign products.

The United States imposed a military embargo on Indonesia in the wake of alleged human rights violations by its troops in 1999 during an independence vote that saw East Timor gain independence from Jakarta.

Although the embargo has been partially lifted to allow the delivery of spare parts for transport planes involved in tsunami relief operations, the US Congress has continued to resist the full normalisation of military ties.

London expressed concerns over the use of British-made Scorpion light tanks by Indonesian forces when they launched an all-out offensive against Aceh's rebels in 2003. The military later withdrew the tanks.

Yudhoyono said such restrictions would not happen if Indonesia could supply its own military needs.

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Analysis - Asia's Tsunami Builds Global Military Ties

By Mark Bendeich, Reuters

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Asia's tsunami has turned into a military confidence-building exercise on a global scale, as armed forces work alongside each other and forge personal relationships that could one day avert a crisis.

But there are doubts the post-tsunami bonhomie between military chiefs will prompt political leaders to carry military ties to a higher level, with their strategic interests unchanged.

The biggest international natural disaster in living memory has drawn together U.S., Asian and European forces in the name of humanitarian aid, deepening relationships among commanders.

"These relationships have been tested ... and the result of that test has been very successful cooperation and that's precisely what we expect for the future," Admiral Thomas Fargo, chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, said on Thursday.

"We will only build and get better in this respect."

A senior Southeast Asian air force officer agreed.

"The relationships have always been close," he told Reuters after an informal meeting of regional defence chiefs in Malaysia. "We know each other by name and call each other by phone."

Around 40,000 military personnel from more than a dozen nations poured into disaster areas around the Indian Ocean to ferry aid to the survivors of the Dec. 26 tsunami, which killed more than 225,000 people in a dozen countries.

The United States and Indian defence forces have together deployed more than 32,000 troops, sailors and aircrew in what is for each its biggest international peacetime relief effort.

Japan is deploying around 1,000 troops, its largest military mission for disaster assistance since World War Two. China's army airlifted tonnes of relief supplies -- the country's record humanitarian aid pledges reflecting its growing diplomatic clout.

Fargo said deeper relationships had been forged between military forces at both senior and junior officer levels. Such ties could help avoid future misunderstandings at sea, in the air or on land and avert a hostile incident.

"Certainly these personal relationships count," he said. "For example, when this disaster happened, all of the senior military leaders were on the phone to each other within a matter of hours.

"And that's exactly the way that I would expect we would handle any significant security concern."

BUT THAT'S CLOSE ENOUGH

Military ties in the Indian and Pacific Oceans are maintained every year via war games, some actually aimed at ensuring smooth cooperation at times of natural disaster, a U.S. officer said.

In 1991, U.S. and Asian forces worked beside each other in a relief effort in Bangladesh after a cyclone killed some 138,000 people. Troops from rivals India and Pakistan also joined in.

And the first signs in the aftermath of last month's tsunami were that catastrophe could build new military relationships.

On a visit to the devastated Indonesian region of Aceh after the tsunami, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz suggested it was time to raise contact with Indonesian forces, out of favour due to their human rights record, and ease limits on military sales to Jakarta.

But the chances of the U.S. Congress approving arms sales to Indonesia appear mixed. Opinion is divided between Republicans and Democrats, who have asked to first see progress on human rights.

Mark Valencia, a maritime security expert based in Hawaii, said he doubted the relief effort would also make U.S. forces any more welcome in the Strait of Malacca, a focus of global security concerns and one of the world's busiest sea lanes.

"I don't think they can use this ... to prise their way into the Malacca Strait," he said, citing reports that Indonesia demanded U.S. aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, used as a base for Aceh relief flights, to leave its waters while its flight crews carried out training flights.

The Strait of Malacca, which runs past Aceh, is policed by Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. U.S. offers to help secure it against attacks on shipping have met a mostly wary response.

Relations between Southeast Asian nations have shown close personal and trading ties do not necessarily progress to military cooperation.

Australia's military has deployed about 1,000 personnel for tsunami relief in Indonesia and has regular contact with several of the region's forces, but its government recently declined to sign the Southeast Asian non-aggression pact.

Regional governments discuss security issues but meetings of Southeast Asian commanders are strictly informal. At a meeting in Kuala Lumpur this week in the wake of the tsunami, they shied away from serious multi-lateral issues. Some spent about as much time playing golf as they did in meetings.

(Additional reporting by Dayan Candappa in Colombo and Vicky Allen in Washington)

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Tuesday January 25, 8:21 AM AP : 
Shadow of Iraq looms over well-received U.S. military operation to aid tsunami victims

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is one of a series of special reports by AP correspondents marking one month since the tsunami wrought death and devastation across Asia and Africa on Dec 26.

By DENIS D. GRAY Associated Press Writer

ABOARD THE USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (AP) _ American warships plowed through seas to reach survivors. Jet fighter pilots, who not long ago bombed Iraq, shouldered bags of rice for the hungry as helicopters swooped down from the skies to rush medicines into ravaged Muslim villages.

The U.S. military operation to aid Asia's tsunami victims, which is beginning to draw down, has proved effective in both relieving suffering and repairing America's bruised image abroad. But the effort probably won't be enough to erase fears, especially in the Muslim world, that the United States remains a nation bent on imposing its will through military muscle, analysts say. The largest American military deployment in Asia since the Vietnam War may also reshape Washington's future relations with Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation.

"As public relations it could hardly be better at a time when the U.S. profile globally is at an all-time post-World War II low," said Jeffrey Winters, a professor of political economy at Northwestern University in Illinois. "The fact that the U.S. response was quick, massive and appeared to ask for nothing as a quid pro quo, casts the United States in a very positive light." But the American expert on Indonesia said countries in the tsunami-hit region also regard the U.S. military as "a kind of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

"The fact that the United States has shown itself willing to attack a country that has not attacked it is very worrisome to countries around the world," Winter said. "And having a forward (military) presence allows that kind of foreign policy tool to be used readily."

Chandra Muzzafar, a political commentator in Malaysia, Indonesia's mostly Muslim neighbor, says reactions in the region are mixed, and that Islamic radicals are unlikely to change their anti-American attitude because of the tsunami relief operation.

A Thai Muslim academic, Vitaya Visetrat, said Washington wants to expand its influence in the region under the guise of the humanitarian mission. Fauzan al-Anshori, a spokesman for militant Muslim group Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia, said the military operation in Aceh could be a precursor to American businesses taking over rehabilitation projects as had occurred in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"I think Iraq has had a very big impact, not just on Muslims but people everywhere, and they see the American military presence as, to put it a little crudely, a `necessary evil,'" Muzzafar said. This presence includes more than 13,000 servicemen and an air and sea armada of 16 Navy vessels, 41 helicopters and 34 fixed wing aircraft. An estimated US$6 million (€4.6 million) is being spent daily on the operation.

U.S. troops have gone ashore in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand to deliver 7.8 million kilograms (17.2 million pounds) of relief supplies, clear beaches of debris and help shattered communities rebuild.

Survivors have welcomed the Americans warmly. Indonesian villagers offered helicopter crews broad smiles, waves and thumbs-up signs as they rushed food and water into their shattered communities. In Sri Lanka, victims in the southern town of Galle greeted unarmed Marines with quiet gratitude.

Villagers have mobbed U.S. helicopters as aid supplies were unloaded _ a sign of the still urgent need for help. At least once, an Indonesian soldier fired a shot into the air to control the crowd, narrowly missing the aircraft's rotor.

"We're still angry about what the Americans are doing in Iraq and Palestine," said Jasriet, a volunteer aid worker in the tsunami-hit city of Banda Aceh, who like many Indonesians uses just one name. "But we can also see that they're here to help. I'll forget politics and think of helping the people."

The Pacific Command says the immediate relief phase is nearing an end, and it would begin withdrawing troops. Adm. Thomas Fargo, who commands U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific region, said his troops would continue to "respond to specific requests of host nations."

The need for helicopters to reach isolated areas along Sumatra's devastated western coastline is still regarded as urgent and might keep the U.S. forces Indonesia for some time. There, Navy and Marine units are treading lightly on sensitive terrain.

"Your conduct and commitment on shore is nearly as important as the relief effort itself as far as relations with the rest of the world," Capt. Kendall L. Card, the commanding officer of the USS Abraham Lincoln, told his crew.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told helicopter pilots aboard the Lincoln they were both "angels of mercy" and instruments of foreign policy at a time when Muslim extremism stalked the world.

The message was clear: helping Muslims, especially the deeply orthodox ones in Aceh, might improve America's position in the Islamic world. And the subtext read: a successful operation could repair complex, acrimonious relations with Indonesia.

"People can see we're not bad," Petty Officer 3rd Class Darcy Plumley said this week while taking a break from loading supplies at Banda Aceh's airport. "All you see is the bad news from Iraq," said Plumley, 23, from Sallisaw, Oklahoma.

U.S. President George W. Bush's administration has campaigned hard against congressional opposition to lifting a ban on weapons sales to Indonesia's military. Here, U.S. officers talk of excellent working relations with their Indonesian counterparts that could lead to better things. Wolfowitz _ a former ambassador to Jakarta _ argues that normalizing relations is justified by the need to help Indonesia fight terrorist groups operating in the country.

The military is eager to re-establish ties for its own ability to function. But memories of the late 1950s, when the U.S. supplied rebels in Sumatra, haven't faded and there are concerns that U.S. presence could buttress insurgents of the Free Aceh Movement.

"It's not just nationalist sensitivity but fear of embarrassment and exposure of a range of things which would put the Indonesian military in an extremely negative light _ mass graves, rapes, torture, attacks on unarmed civilians, corruption, smuggling," Winters said.

The arms ban was imposed in 1991 after Indonesian troops gunned down more than 250 unarmed protesters in East Timor.

Close attention will be paid to how much and for how long Washington contributes to post-tsunami reconstruction.

"The challenge I see for U.S. policy is maintaining presence in the rebuilding," says Arun Swamy, a South Asia expert at the East-West Center in Hawaii. "Is this administration going to let its gaze waver enough from the Middle East to engage in a long term rebuilding effort?"

Associated Press writer Edward Harris in Banda Aceh contributed to this report.


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