Subject: IHT: Washington's Signal to Jakarta: Military Ties Depend on Reforms

International Herald Tribune May 20, 2001

Washington's Signal to Jakarta:

Restoration of Closer Military Ties Depends on Reforms

By Michael Richardson


U.S. warships are taking part in a joint exercise with the Indonesian Navy to send a signal that the United States wants to restore closer links with the Indonesian armed forces provided that they carry out promised reforms, the American commander in the Asia-Pacific region said in an interview Friday.

Three U.S. warships anchored off Jakarta on Thursday amid criticism from human rights groups that the visit undermined bans on military links with Indonesia imposed by the Clinton administration and the U.S. Congress in 1999.

The bans on U.S. military sales, services and training programs for Indonesia were applied after elements within the Indonesian army supported the devastating militia rampage in East Timor that occurred after the territory voted for independence from Indonesia.

Admiral Dennis Blair, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said that U.S. military contacts with Indonesia had been restricted but not completely cut off since the time of the army abuses.

But he said in an interview that the American naval vessels -- two frigates and a landing ship -- were working with the Indonesian Navy on the common tasks of humanitarian assistance and law enforcement.

"The symbolic signal we wish to send is that we do want to cooperate with the Indonesian Navy on those areas in which it is our common interest and in which we feel that the Indonesian armed forces are conducting themselves in a manner that we all aspire to," he said.

"We also want to send the signal that we would like to broaden the relationship" to bring it closer to the way it was, so that "the reforms and accountability that Indonesia have agreed to are realized."

But John Miller, the spokesman for the East Timor Action Network, a U.S. human rights group, said that the U.S. should "refuse to engage the Indonesian military in any way while it rejects cooperation with UN investigations of human rights abuses in East Timor." He said that the Indonesian military continued to promote many of the officers most responsible for the violence during East Timor's referendum.

Indonesia's deepening political crisis and worsening separatist conflicts worry the United States, as well as countries in the region. They fear that continuing turmoil could cause an economic collapse and possibly lead to the break-up of the world's fourth most populous nation, a development that could destabilize Southeast Asia and could threaten the security of key sea lanes that pass through or near Indonesia.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said this week that Washington was carefully watching moves by the Indonesian Parliament that could lead to the impeachment of President Abdurrahman Wahid.

The United States is also anxious about the tougher action the Indonesian military is taking in Aceh province, and elsewhere, to suppress separatism. "We have cautioned the government that, in their effort to keep the country together and not let it fly apart into its many potential constituent parts, they have to be very sensitive to how they use their military force," Mr. Powell said.

Admiral Blair said that Indonesia was important because of its size and potential influence in the region. He added that he was more concerned about the general disruption of economic activity in Indonesia than about any specific threat that might emerge to the safety of shipping in the Malacca Straits and other key sea lanes that pass through Indonesia or close to it.

"I'm not so much concerned about having to convoy merchant ships through the straits in response to a specific threat as I am concerned with a pattern of lawlessness in the region which would cause investors to lose confidence, cause a continuing shutdown of places like the Exxon-Mobil facility there, and cause shippers to choose other routes," Admiral Blair said.

Increased fighting between separatist rebels and government forces in the province of Aceh recently forced Exxon-Mobil to shut gas fields supplying one of Indonesia's two plants for exporting liquefied natural gas to Asian customers, mainly Japan and South Korea. Both are American allies.

The military has strongly opposed prosecuting the people charged with responsibility for the East Timor rampage, and the government has refused to extradite them to face trial in East Timor, which is now under temporary United Nations administration before it gains independence.

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