Subject: US Lawmakers Adamant: No Indon Military Aid Without Prosecutions

Asia Times September 10, 2001

US lawmakers push for E Timor tribunal

By Tim Shorrock

WASHINGTON - In the aftermath of East Timor's first national elections, influential lawmakers in the US Congress are calling on the Bush administration to support the creation of an international tribunal that would bring to justice Indonesian military officers implicated in the 1999 massacres in the former territory.

They also want US ties to the Indonesian military to remain on hold until the new government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri prosecutes and expels members of the Indonesian military (TNI) responsible for the murderous rampage that followed the independence plebiscite in East Timor in 1999.

"Not one person has been formally charged for these acts," said Senator Tom Harkin, a liberal Iowa Democrat, in a press conference last week. "Yet hundreds of men, women and children were slaughtered. This is just like what happened in Rwanda and the Balkans." He told reporters he wants to see an international tribunal for East Timor that would be modeled on the courts that tried war criminals in those countries as well as Iraq.

"The international community and the United States have failed the people of East Timor," added Representative James McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts. "We must bring Indonesian generals and military officers to trial for their crimes against East Timor. Many of these officers are still active in the military."

Harkin and McGovern both witnessed Indonesian repression during a visit to East Timor in 1999. They said 12 senators and 58 members of the House have signed a joint resolution that will ask the Bush administration to push for the international criminal tribunal and direct US agencies such as the FBI to collect evidence and work with the UN to prosecute the TNI officers identified by UN and Indonesian human rights organizations as responsible for the worst violence in East Timor.

The congressional demands come at an awkward time for both the Bush administration and the Megawati government. Since Megawati was elected president by the Indonesian parliament in July with the support of the military, senior Bush officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have begun talking publicly about resuming US military aid to Jakarta.

In a visit to Jakarta in August, US Trade Representative Robert B Zoellick raised the possibility of restoring "basic military-to-military contacts" between US and Indonesian military forces, focusing on critical areas of reform such as the "professionalization" of the TNI. Zoellick, the highest-ranking US official to meet with Megawati so far, also invited the new president to meet Bush during a state visit to Washington set for mid-September.

US military aid and training for Indonesia was suspended in September 1999 in the aftermath of the rampage in East Timor by militia forces backed by the TNI. Later that year, Congress adopted the so-called Leahy amendment that linked the resumption of military aid to several requirements, including permitting thousands of East Timorese refugees to return home and the prosecution of TNI and military personnel involved in the atrocities. Both the House and Senate approved the language again this year in the Pentagon's appropriations bills for fiscal year 2002.

While the State Department has consistently voiced support for the Leahy language, Rumsfeld and other defense hard-liners believe the restrictions are making it difficult for the Pentagon to retain its influence in Indonesia at a time when Asia is emerging as a key focus for US military strategy around the world.

That position recently won support from a study group on Southeast Asia commissioned by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and chaired by former US Senator Robert Kerry of Nebraska, a liberal Democrat. In a report issued over the summer, the Kerry commission sharply criticized backers of the Leahy amendment. Kerry asserted that US training assistance to Indonesia should be resumed because the TNI has reformed by dropping its "controversial claim to a role in political and social affairs" and formally acknowledging that it is "responsible to civilian authority".

Harkin and other lawmakers critical of the Indonesian military characterized those views as naive. "I disagree with Mr Kerry and think he's wrong," Sen Harkin said in response to a question about the CFR study. "He hasn't looked at what happened in East Timor."

Harkin said he was not opposed to a resumption of military ties, but would only support such a move in the context of an international tribunal that prosecuted TNI military officers charged with crimes against humanity and a strong policy by the United States to support the new government in East Timor. Following last month's elections, that government will be led by the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, widely known as Fretilin. It won 57 percent of the vote, UN officials said last week, and will dominate the new assembly that will begin the process of independence next year.

"We must continue to suspend US aid until the perpetrators [of East Timor] are brought to justice," said McGovern. "I'm concerned by comments from the Bush administration they are doing the opposite."

A Senate aide who has spoken to Bush administration officials about the proposed tribunal said the only approach to Indonesia as been at a "low-profile level". The administration officials contacted by congressional staff "haven't said they will support a tribunal", the aide added.

Harkin warned the Bush administration not to seek to push through funds for resuming military ties without prosecutions of TNI officers suspected of human rights violations. "When they ask for money for establishing military contacts, we will put the brakes on," said Harkin, who is a member of the Senate's foreign operations appropriations committee. "If they believe they could establish a military resumption [of ties] and spend taxpayer money for that, they're sadly mistaken. We have enough people paying attention so they won't be able to slip this through without us knowing about it."

Harkin and McGovern were part of a US congressional delegation that toured East Timor just before the 1999 independence vote. During their visit, they spent time at a Catholic church compound in the border town of Suai, where three parish priests had offered sanctuary to some 2,000 Timorese fearful of the Indonesian military and the militias. Several weeks after their visit, the three priests and some 200 refugees were murdered in a vicious attack by the militias.

"These were good men, these were holy men," Rep McGovern said of the priests. "Nothing we say or do in Congress, nothing the UN may say or do, and nothing President Bush might say or do, can ever bring these men back to the people of Suai ... But we can recognize that the path to independence follows the road of justice and reconciliation - and we must demand justice for the crimes committed against them."

Rep Lane Evans of Illinois, who introduced the joint resolution for the tribunal, and Sen Jack Reed, a member of the 1999 delegation to East Timor, also participated in the press conference. Both are Democrats.

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