Subject: SMH: Australia to resume joint military exercises with Kopassus

Also: The World Today - Aust Defence-Kopassus ties questioned

Sydney Morning Herald

August 1, 2003

Indonesia, Australia exercises on again

By Matthew Moore, Herald Correspondent in Jakarta

Australia has moved to resume contentious joint military exercises with the Indonesian Army's special forces.

After a meeting in Jakarta yesterday between the Australian Chief of Army, Lieutenant-General Peter Leahy, and the Indonesian Defence Minister, Abdul Djalil, a spokesman for Mr Djalil told journalists that although no time or place had been agreed, "there is a desire to do joint exercises".

The spokesman, Abdul Ajis Manaf, said Australia had raised the issue, adding "it was not for the first time".

He said the talks involved proposals for joint exercises in anti-terrorism and people smuggling, the two areas where Australia most needs help from its near neighbour.

Mr Manaf said the Indonesian Government had also asked Australia to help convince Western nations, especially Britain, that it was not breaching an agreement with Britain forbidding the use of its weapons against civilians.

Jakarta has been accused of using British-made equipment including Hawk jets and Scorpion tanks against civilians in its renewed military assault on separatists in Aceh province.

"Everyone knows Indonesia is not allowed to use the combat equipment [bought from Britain] to do with a civilian dispute," Mr Manaf told the Detik internet news service.

He did not say how Australia might satisfy itself that Indonesia was using its weapons in accordance with the conditions imposed at the time of sale.

Soon after the new military operation began in Aceh, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign, Tapol, wrote to the British Foreign Office complaining that Hawk jets were being used in "clear breach of assurances . . . that British equipment would not be used for internal repression or counter-insurgency operations."

Yesterday's meeting was the latest step in a process begun by Australia's Defence Minister, Robert Hill, last year to resume closer ties with Indonesia's military after the Bali bombings.

Since then, Australian officials had visited Indonesia twice to discuss closer military co-operation in counter terrorism.

Australia used to conduct joint operations with Indonesian soldiers, particularly members of the Kopassus special forces, but these were stopped after the massacres in East Timor in 1999.

Kopassus's reputation for serious human rights abuses in Aceh, Papua and East Timor means any resumption of joint exercises will be controversial.

However, Kopassus is the army unit mainly responsible for counter-terrorism, and Senator Hill has argued that if Australia is going to improve Indonesia's expertise in that area it has to work with Kopassus.

Mr Manaf said Kopassus had not been specifically mentioned at the meeting, although a spokeswoman for Senator Hill agreed it would inevitably be involved.

"The minister has said it would be of a counter-terrorism nature," she said.

ABC Online

The World Today - Aust Defence-Kopassus ties questioned

[This is the print version of story]

The World Today - Friday, 1 August , 2003 12:30:48

Reporter: Michael Vincent

ELEANOR HALL: Australian Defence analysts and Indonesia watchers are raising concerns today about the merits of proposed joint-exercises involving Australia's Defence Forces and Indonesia's still controversial special forces, or Kopassus.

Australia's Army Chief has just concluded talks with Indonesia's Defence Minister in Jakarta, in which proposals for joint exercises on counter-terrorism and people smuggling were raised.

But even though there was no definite commitment to the exercises and the Indonesians say no timetable was discussed, concerns remain in some circles about Australia providing training assistance to an Indonesian force which has been linked to serious human rights abuses.

Michael Vincent reports.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Australian defence officials have very real concerns about Indonesia's ability to respond to terrorist threats, specifically a hijacking, according to senior Indonesian specialist, Professor Harold Crouch, from the ANU (Australian National University).

HAROLD CROUCH: The particular scenario that I heard was what would happen if, say, terrorists hijack a Qantas plane in Bali, well, for example. In that case, Australia couldn't do anything about that without the cooperation of the Indonesian security forces.

Now, technically in Indonesia internal security is a question for the police but the police would not have much capacity to deal with that sort of scenario and really, the only force in Indonesia that could deal with it is the Kopassus.

MICHAEL VINCENT: In other words, Australia has no choice but to build ties with the discredited organisation. A force Professor Crouch estimates is made up of 5,000 to 6,000 members.

But Kopassus does have its hands dirty. Recently implicated in the killing of a West Papua independence leader and a long list of other human rights abuses across the Archipelago.

Military Analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Aldo Borgu.

ALDO BORGU: We are dealing with a very shady organisation and, in many respects in the past, Kopassus has been more part of the problem than part of the solution.

MICHAEL VINCENT: What do you mean by that?

ALDO BORGU: Certainly their activities in human rights abuses in Timor, West Papua, in Aceh. Certainly their political links, as far as basically with parts of the Suharto regime and the like, means that it's certainly been viewed with suspicion even within Indonesia and there has been a number of efforts to try to reform the organisation.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Do we know of any links Kopassus may have with Muslim extremists in Indonesia and potential connections to Jemaah Islamiah?

ALDO BORGU: Look, certainly nothing that's come to anyone's attention that would raise any concerns but I don't think you can rule out that possibility. I mean, given their role within the political sphere, their role certainly in terms of supporting elements of the Suharto regime, it's certainly not out of the question to suggest that at some point in time those sort of links might not come to the surface.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Despite its record and the risks involved in sharing counter-terrorism skills with Kopassus, other defence analysts believe it's better to engage with them and hope to change them than let ties lapse.

And there's political reasons for that as well. Aldo Borgu says there's a long-standing view from within Defence headquarters in Canberra that Kopassus is the training ground for Indonesia's best and brightest military officers. And the Indonesian military elite has a substantial number of ex-special forces soldiers.

But Professor Harold Crouch says that is no longer the case.

HAROLD CROUCH: I think that was the argument that used to be put during the Suharto period, especially the late Suharto period when many of the top Indonesian officers did in fact have Kopassus background and were considered to be the best and brightest and all that sort of thing.

But since then Kopassus has damaged its own reputation in Indonesia. A lot of this after the fall of Suharto, all sorts of human rights abuses and that sort of thing came into the public debate and even in Indonesia itself many people are very wary of Kopassus, including people in the military itself.

So at present the Commander of the Armed Forces is not a Kopassus person. The Chief of the Staff of the Army is not a Kopassus person. So, in fact there are a lot of senior officers nowadays who are not Kopassus.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Does that extend to regional commanders?

HAROLD CROUCH: I'm not sure of all them, but generally the role of Kopassus has become much more limited. So, I would think it's not a good idea to be too closely associated with Kopassus.

MICHAEL VINCENT: But you believe there is a practical element, a practical reason, which deals more with security for Australian nationals?

HAROLD CROUCH: Yeah, and that's a very limited sort of training. Now that's, I mean, I can see the argument for, I can see the argument against, but there's a limited case for that. A more general engagement with Kopassus, I would say at this stage it…that should not happen.

ELEANOR HALL: Indonesian specialist, Professor Harold Crouch, from the Australian National University, speaking there to Michael Vincent.

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