Subject: IPS: US Senate Blocks Indonesia Military Aid

Asia Times/IPS Friday, October 31, 2003

U.S. Senate Blocks Indonesia Military Aid

By Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON - Two weeks after President George W Bush announced that he was ready to normalize military ties with Indonesia, the US Senate approved an amendment to the 2004 foreign-aid bill banning training for Indonesian army officers.

Senators who co-sponsored two amendments that were approved unanimously by the Upper House said military ties should not be normalized at least until the Indonesian military (TNI) cooperates fully with an investigation being carried out by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) into last year's fatal ambush of the staff of an international school in Timika in West Papua province.

Two US schoolteachers, as well as one Indonesian, were killed in the incident in which eight other US citizens were wounded, including a six-year-old girl.

Both US investigators and the Indonesian police have suggested that members of the TNI were responsible for the ambush, possibly in retaliation for the refusal of Freeport McMoRan, the owner of the world's largest gold mine, to continue paying the armed forces for security.

The first amendment, sponsored by Republican Senator Wayne Allard of Colorado, bans Indonesia from receiving training under the State Department's International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, for which the administration had tentatively allocated some US$600,000, unless Bush "determines national-security interests" justify a waiver.

The second amendment, sponsored by Democratic Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, states that any "normalization" of military relations between the two countries cannot resume until there is "full cooperation" with the FBI in its investigation and the individuals responsible for the murders are brought to justice.

The Feingold amendment also stated as a matter of policy that "respect of the Indonesia military for human rights and the improvement in relations between the military and civilian population are extremely important for the future of relations between the United States and Indonesia".

Last July, the House of Representatives, which also expressed concern about the TNI's cooperation with the FBI, also voted to strip money for IMET training for Indonesia in its version of the foreign-aid bill, so language conditioning IMET funding for 2004 will almost certainly be included in the final version of the bill to be submitted to Bush in the coming weeks, congressional aides said.

Both amendments represent a setback to the administration, which has seen Indonesia, the world's most populous, predominantly Muslim nation, as a key ally in its "war on terrorism", as well as an important target of al-Qaeda and other radical Islamic groups for recruitment and training of militants.

Initially, the Bush administration was frustrated by the attitude taken by the government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri until the bombing just over one year ago of a nightclub on the predominantly Hindu island of Bali that killed more than 200 people, including almost 90 vacationing Australians.

The bombing was blamed on an Islamic group, Jemaah Islamiya, which Washington believes is linked to al-Qaeda. Since the incident, the Indonesian government has cracked down hard on the group and cooperated much more closely with the United States, Australia and regional security forces in tracking suspected militants.

The Bush administration, which has made little secret of its desire to renew military ties with TNI, particularly since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon, has wanted to reward the government for its changed attitude. Last year, the Pentagon provided the TNI with some $4 million in counter-terrorism training and non-lethal equipment, while Congress also agreed to lift some restrictions on other military aid and training.

Actual delivery of some of that assistance, however, has been held up by Congress since the Timika ambush. While Jakarta initially blamed rebels, police investigators, bolstered by the FBI, concluded that the evidence pointed instead to TNI units.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who served as US ambassador to Jakarta in the 1980s, has long favored normalizing military ties with Indonesia and particularly renewing training programs for TNI officers. "I believe exposure of Indonesian officers to US [military personnel and practices] has been a way to promote reform efforts in the military, not to set them back," he said last year.

But lawmakers remain unconvinced, noting that hundreds of Indonesian military officers had been training in IMET and similar programs since the 1960s, but there was little evidence of a change in the institution's abusive practices.

In addition to the Timika incident, Congress has also expressed concern about the counter-insurgency campaign in Aceh province which was launched against rebels there after peace talks collapsed last May. Wolfowitz has himself stated several times over the past several months that Jakarta should seek a political settlement to the conflicts in both Aceh and West Papua.

Bush himself, however, created considerable confusion just two weeks ago on the eve of his own visit to Bali during a week-long tour of Asia. "I think we can go forward with [a] package of mil-to-mil cooperation because of the cooperation of the government on the killings of the two US citizens," he said in an interview with Indonesian television, adding that "Congress has changed their attitude".

But this was immediately challenged by puzzled lawmakers on Capitol Hill who had been negotiating with the administration over language to be included in the 2004 foreign-aid bill that would take account of their concerns. Three days later, a senior administration official, who talked with reporters on background, said that Bush had misspoken.

"Progress in building a broader military-to-military relationship with Indonesia," the anonymous official said, "will be pinned on continued cooperation from Indonesia on the investigation into the murders" of the schoolteachers in Timika.

IMET funding has long been a litmus test of military relations between Washington and Jakarta. Congress first voted to restrict IMET training for the armed forces in Indonesia after they committed a massacre of more than 100 unarmed civilians in Dili, the capital of East Timor, in 1991.

All military ties were subsequently severed by the administration of president Bill Clinton when the TNI and militias under its control ravaged East Timor after its inhabitants voted overwhelmingly for independence in a United Nations-organized referendum.

Congress subsequently voted to tie all US military aid, training and sales on the TNI's implementing far-reaching reforms in its human rights, economic and institutional practices, including its subordination to civilian authority and its prosecution of officers responsible for the violence in East Timor.

Although virtually all of the conditions were ignored, the Bush administration prevailed on Congress to lift them after the September 11 attacks.

 


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