Subject: RI welcomes Australian decision to resume training Kopassus

also: Australia Indonesia Military Maneuvers; 'Care needed' over Kopassus

Indonesia welcomes Australian decision to resume training elite commando unit

JAKARTA, December 11 (AP) - Indonesia welcomed Australia's decision Sunday to resume ties with its elite commando unit to help fight terrorism, but human rights activists questioned whether the force had improved its record since Canberra imposed the ban.

Joint exercises with the force, known as Kopassus, were suspended in 1999 following allegations the troops were involved in atrocities in East Timor ahead of the former Indonesian province's 1999 independence vote.

On Sunday, Australia's defense minister said joint maneuvers would resume next year, citing the unit's importance in cracking down on al-Qaida linked militants blamed for a series of deadly bombings in the country since 2000.

"We highly respect the Australian decision," said Indonesian military spokesman Maj. Gen. Kohirin Suganda. "The world has the right to judge the Indonesian military, but the tsunami disaster and the terrorism threat have opened peoples' eyes and minds on how important we are in providing effective relief aid and in counterterrorism."

Asmara Nababan, the executive director, of the Institute for Human Rights and Democracy Studies, said he was not convinced Kopassus had undertaken meaningful reform since 1999, and noted the force was implicated in rights abuses elsewhere in Indonesia.

"Up until now I am not convinced there have been any major changes in Kopassus, so what is to stop the force committing more abuses in the future," he said.

The decision is the latest step in the international rehabilitation of Indonesia's armed forces.

Also citing the need to bolster the military in the light of the anti-terror war, the United States last month lifted a ban on arms sales to Jakarta that was imposed after the East Timor conflict.

Nababan questioned Canberra's reason for resuming the exercises.

"The lead agency in the war against terrorism is the police, so what is the relevance and urgency of training Kopassus," he said. "This is all about Australia wanting good ties with Indonesia and using the training issue as a reward."

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Australia Indonesia Military Maneuvers

By MIKE CORDER Associated Press Writer

SYDNEY, December 11 (AP) -- Australian forces will resume training exercises with Indonesia's Kopassus elite commando force next year, Defense Minister Robert Hill said Sunday.

The maneuvers will be the first since Canberra suspended joint training with the commando force known as Kopassus following widespread allegations the troops were involved in human rights abuses in East Timor ahead of the former Indonesian province's 1999 independence vote.

"In this era of heightened terrorist threats, it is in Australia's interests to engage with regional special forces, such as Kopassus, to safeguard the lives of Australians and Australian interests abroad," Hill said in a statement.

The decision is the latest step in the international rehabilitation of Indonesia's armed forces. The United States last month lifted a ban on arms sales to Jakarta that was imposed after the East Timor conflict.

Hill said members of Australia's Special Air Service Regiment and Indonesia's specialist counterterrorism unit, Kopassus Unit 81 would be involved in the two-week exercise that will include training in counterterrorism, dealing with hijackings and hostage recovery.

The announcement was applauded in Indonesia.

"We highly respect the Australian decision," said Indonesian military spokesman Maj. Gen. Kohirin Suganda. "The world has the right to judge the Indonesian military, but the tsunami disaster and the terrorism threat have opened peoples' eyes and minds on how important we are in providing effective relief aid and in counterterrorism."

Asmara Nababan, the executive director, of the Institute for Human Rights and Democracy Studies, said he was not convinced Kopassus had undertaken meaningful reform since 1999, and noted the force was implicated in rights abuses elsewhere in Indonesia.

"Up until now I am not convinced there have been any major changes in Kopassus, so what is to stop the force committing more abuses in the future," he said.

Dozens of Australians have been killed by terrorists in Indonesia in recent years, including 88 who died in the October 2002 Bali bombings.

Al-Qaida-linked Islamic terrorists also have targeted the Australian embassy in Jakarta with a truck bomb.

"Kopassus Unit 81 has the most effective capability to respond to a counter-hijack or hostage recovery threat in Indonesia," Hill said.

"In the event of a terrorist incident, the safety of Australians in Indonesia could well rest on effective cooperation between TNI and the ADF," Hill added, referring to the Indonesian and Australian armed forces by their acronyms.

In an interview with The Sunday Age newspaper, Hill said Australia was confident no soldiers involved in human rights abuses in East Timor would be part of the exercise.

"They know to nominate somebody who has human rights blemishes on their record would be embarrassing to us and we are confident that such a person wouldn't be in the group," he told the newspaper.

"We do believe that Indonesia has made a serious effort to improve the human rights record of its forces," he added. "The current government is very committed to that and if we look at how they've responded to the cease-fire in Aceh, its been really quite impressive."


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