Subject: The Age: Indonesia resists US pressure on militias

The Age Tuesday 19 September 2000

Indonesia resists US pressure on militias


Photo: Guarded greeting: Indonesian Defence Minister Mohamad Mahfud, left, inspects a guard of honor with US Defence Secretary William Cohen on his arrival in Jakarta for talks on disarming and disbanding the Timor militias. Picture: AFP

Indonesia yesterday reacted defiantly to a demand by visiting US Defence Secretary William Cohen to disband militias in West Timor, accusing the US of being partly to blame for militia violence.

Indonesia's new Defence Minister, Mohamad Mahfud, dismayed diplomats and analysts by saying a US embargo on military cooperation had denied Indonesia's armed forces the equipment to deal with the militias.

"They are in the jungle and can hide their weapons everywhere," Mr Mahfud told reporters after meeting Mr Cohen. "Meanwhile, our equipment is not enough because cooperation between our militaries is embargoed."

Diplomats in Jakarta point out the militias were armed and trained by Indonesian armed forces that could easily disarm and disband them.

Witnesses say that Indonesian police and soldiers stood by as pro-Jakarta militia attacked, killed and set alight three UN aid workers in the West Timor border town of Atambua on September 6.

Diplomats are also dismayed at claims by senior government figures in Jakarta that foreign donors have not provided enough money to repatriate or relocate elsewhere in Indonesia the 120,000 East Timorese in West Timor refugee camps.

"It's absolute nonsense to say money to relocate the refugees has not been available," a senior Western diplomat said. "When are the Indonesians going to stop making excuses? They are doing themselves a grave disservice because the goodwill towards them is rapidly disappearing."

Mr Cohen said after meeting President Abdurrahman Wahid that Indonesia understood the militias needed to be disbanded and that failing to do so would affect the country's relations with the US and the world.

"We have indicated that once we see that there is a commitment to deal with this effectively, then we can resume more normal military-to-military relations," Mr Cohen said. "But an effort has to be undertaken on their part before that can take place."

The US cut military ties with Indonesia last year after pro-Jakarta militias, backed by Indonesia's military, killed more than 1200 East Timorese and razed the territory after a majority of Timorese voted to reject Indonesia's rule.

The US Congress has ordered the Pentagon not to resume the ties until Jakarta brings its armed forces under control and complies with UN resolutions on East Timor, including allowing the West Timor refugees to go home.

Mr Cohen made clear before arriving in Jakarta for a 24-hour visit that Indonesia risked international isolation if it failed to disband the militias. The visit came amid growing concern among diplomats in Jakarta about an emerging nationalist backlash here against international criticism.

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