Subject: US Assures Indonesia It's Trying to Restore Military Ties

also: The U.S. Congress Sends Mixed Message On Indonesian Military

US Govt Working To Restore Military Ties with Indonesia

JAKARTA, Aug. 2 (AP)--The U.S. government assured Indonesia Tuesday it was trying to persuade Congress to overturn a ban on full military-to-military relations, and said cooperation between the two forces after the Asian tsunami strengthened the case for ties to resume.

The U.S. Congress cut military contacts with Jakarta in 1999 when Indonesian soldiers were blamed for widespread killing and destruction of property in East Timor after it voted for independence.

The Bush administration wants the ban lifted, arguing Washington should be supporting Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation and a key battleground in the war on terror.

"You can be sure that the executive branch is working to open the way for the normalization of military-to-military relationships," U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia B. Lynn Pascoe said in a speech at the start of a meeting between senior U.S. and Indonesian defense officials in Jakarta.

Militaries from both nations worked side by side in the aftermath of the Dec. 26 tsunami distributing emergency food and water and rescuing survivors in the hard-hit province of Aceh on Sumatra Island.

Pascoe said this experience "helped us set the stage to move to a higher level of military to military cooperation."

Over the last two years, several joint programs and training exercises between the two forces have been held and limited sales of military equipment to Indonesia are now also permitted.

But Congress and human rights groups have rejected full normalization because of the failure of Indonesia to punish anyone in connection with the killings in East Timor and concerns about human rights abuses in the sprawling country.

The 2002 killings of two American teachers in Papua province has also complicated ties between the two countries. Rights group allege rogue Indonesian soldiers were behind the shootings.

Jakarta has made repeated efforts to resume full ties. The campaign received a boost when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a U.S.-educated former military general, won office last October in the country's first ever direct election for head of state.

Indonesian Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono told reporters later he was "certain" that the ban would be lifted because of the post-tsunami cooperation and Yudhoyono's good reputation in Washington.

"Congress members are convinced that SBY is serious about making the Indonesian military fall under civilian control," he said, referring to Yudhoyono by his initials as is commonly done here.

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