Subject: PNS: Indonesia is a Risky Ally in Terrorism Fight

Indonesia is a Risky Ally in Terrorism Fight By Ben Terrall, Pacific News Service, September 27, 2001

President Bush this week promised Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri economic aid in return for her support of Bush's plan to fight terrorism. But PNS contributor Ben Terrall warns that the United States must avoid supporting the Indonesian army, which wages terror campaigns of its own and has ties with radical Islamic groups. Terrall is coordinator of the San Francisco Chapter of the East Timor Action Network.

SAN FRANCISCO -- As the Bush administration curries favor from Indonesia in Washington's declared war against terrorism, it must not be lured into supporting the archipelago's armed forces. The Indonesian military has a long history of terror campaigns against civilians, and has close ties with extremist Islamic groups in its own country.

Efforts to uncover the support network behind the September 11 attacks on the United States include a focus on Indonesia. For that, Washington needs Jakarta's support. But in its rush to strengthen relations with the world's most populous and diverse Muslim nation, the Bush administration must not go too far.

Any commitment of military assistance to Jakarta would override a ban on most such aid put in place after the Indonesian military (TNI) and its militias ravaged East Timor in September 1999, leaving up to 1,000 dead. The attacks followed referendum results showing overwhelming support among East Timorese for independence from Indonesia.

This week Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri met with President Bush and pledged her government's support in tracking terrorist groups connected to the New York and Washington attacks. Megawati told reporters, "Indonesia is always against violence. Terrorism is an act of violence, so we will definitely fight terrorism."

Bush in turn pledged $400 million to promote trade and investment ties with Indonesia. The White House announced it would "resume regular meetings between [U.S. and Indonesian] militaries to support Indonesia's efforts at military reform and professionalization," and said the United States would "lift its embargo on commercial sales of non-lethal defense articles for Indonesia."

Lt. Gen. Kiki Syahnakri, deputy chief of the Indonesian army, also announced his forces were preparing to fight international terrorism. Syahnakri was martial law commander in East Timor in September 1999, during much of the scorched-earth campaign. A U.N.-commissioned report found that "the campaign of massive destruction, deportation and killings in September was essentially an operation planned and carried out by the TNI," and named Syahnakri as one of the officers responsible.

Syahnakri was transferred from East Timor to serve as commander of the Ninth Military Area, where he did nothing to stop militia terror in West Timor refugee camps and stymied U.N. efforts to repatriate East Timorese forcibly displaced from their homeland by the Indonesian armed forces. Under his watch, militias in Kupang, West Timor, killed three U.N. workers and an unknown number of Timorese.

As with the East Timor militias, the killers were trained and armed by the Indonesian military. Since 1999, such militias have appeared in the restive regions of Aceh and Irian Jaya, and have organized under the banner of a radical version of Islam throughout the archipelago.

On September 16, the U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia stated that the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta would be the next target of terrorists led by Osama bin Laden. The ambassador alleged that bin Laden's network has joined forces with extremist groups within Indonesia led by Laskar Jihad (the Jihad Troops).

Laskar Jihad has long-established links to the Indonesian military. Indonesian academic George Aditjondro traced financial support from a foundation affiliated with the former dictator Suharto to Jihad groups; Indonesia's former defense minister also accused Suharto forces of supporting the organizations. When former President Abdurrahman Wahid ordered the military to stop the Laskar Jihad from leaving ports in East Java to wage war on Christians in Ambon and Maluku, the Indonesian army and the navy refused to comply. Upon arrival in Ambon, Jihad leader Ustad Ja'far Umar Thalib, who bragged that he had a hot line to TNI commander Admiral Widodo, was welcomed by the local military commander.

Indonesian military officers, though residing in what Washington describes as an emerging democracy, still silence witnesses and investigators through intimidation. This chilling atmosphere has kept editors and journalists from pursuing credible evidence of military backing for the scores of bombings that have plagued the archipelago in recent years.

Existing U.S. legislation stipulates that before normal military ties can be restored between the United States and Indonesia, the Indonesian government and military must allow "displaced persons and refugees to return home to East Timor," and bring to justice those responsible for human rights atrocities in East Timor and Indonesia. But militias controlled by the military are still limiting return of refugees to East Timor, and not one TNI officer has had to answer for the destruction of East Timor or the murders there.

Before the United States undoes the hard-won ban on military support for the TNI, full investigations by Indonesian authorities into the role of the Indonesian military in terror bombings, and into the military's support for armed militia groups such as the Laskar Jihad, must take place.

The Indonesian military and police already have far too much power. More U.S. training would only consolidate that power, and prevent the emergence of a nonviolent, civil society.


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