Subject: NYT Editorial: The Need to Curb Indonesia's Army

Also: NYT & WP: U.S. and Indonesia May Restore Military Link

The New York Times Monday, January 17, 2005


The Need to Curb Indonesia's Army

The scale of the tsunami disaster and continuing health risks in Indonesia's Aceh province are almost beyond comprehension. Getting desperately needed emergency aid to the survivors, wherever they are, is now an overwhelmingly urgent humanitarian priority. Unfortunately, Indonesia's politically powerful army is not used to putting humanitarianism first. Imbued with a reflexively nationalist ideology and obsessed with a counterinsurgency campaign against armed Aceh separatist groups, army leaders persuaded government officials to restrict foreign aid workers to the province's two main cities. They also pushed them to tell the foreign military forces now aiding relief operations to leave Indonesia no later than March 26. That deadline has been recast as a target date after complaints from Washington.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a former general himself, needs to make sure his generals understand that they are accountable to him as the democratically elected leader and that the human needs of Aceh's people must be Indonesia's most compelling concern. Until that change is internalized, there can be no dropping of America's limits on military ties with Indonesia. Those limits were imposed because of past human rights violations by the Indonesian armed forces.

At least 100,000 people died in Indonesia from the Dec. 26 tsunami. Aceh was the hardest-hit area. Cities were flattened and villages wiped from the map. Three weeks later, disease is a major concern and medical help is desperately needed.

For Indonesian military leaders, however, Aceh is not just the site of a natural calamity; it is also the scene of a long and bloody conflict with local separatist guerrillas. And instead of grasping this unexpected opportunity to create good will and foster national reconciliation in a common rebuilding effort, army leaders have seemed more intent on getting the foreigners out of the way so they can resume counterinsurgency efforts as quickly as possible.

Indonesia's generals have exercised political power behind the scenes for decades. They continued to do so even after the 32-year dictatorship of Gen. Suharto ended in 1998. Last September, Mr. Yudhoyono became the first Indonesian leader to be democratically elected by a direct popular vote, an event that many hailed as the start of a new era of more responsive and competent government. Those hopes now face a critical test. This is the moment for Mr. Yudhoyono to take full charge and insist that the needs of Aceh's people come first.


also: WP: Indonesian Calls for Easing of U.S. Restrictions

The New York Times Monday, January 17, 2005


U.S. and Indonesia May Restore Military Link


JAKARTA, Indonesia, Jan. 16 - The United States and Indonesia are seeking to use their cooperation in dealing with the tsunami crisis as a springboard to restore closer military ties after a decade of limited contact because of American concern over human rights abuses by the Indonesian Army, senior defense officials from both countries said Sunday.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, visiting here on a trip to three countries hit hard by the tsunami last month, said Congressional restrictions on American training and arms sales should be re-evaluated in light of what the Indonesian military is doing to refashion itself into a more professional and accountable force.

"If we're interested in military reform here," Mr. Wolfowitz told reporters, "I think we need to reconsider a bit where we are."

Earlier in the day, Mr. Wolfowitz, who was the American ambassador here from 1986 to 1989, in the Reagan administration, said, "Cutting off contact with Indonesian officers only makes the problem worse."

Military assistance to Indonesia was halted in 1992 in response to the killing of demonstrators in East Timor by Indonesian forces. After the Sept. 11 attacks, some counterterrorism training for Indonesian forces resumed. Last week, restrictions were relaxed to allow the sale of spare parts for Indonesia's aging fleet of C-130 military cargo planes so they could be used to deliver aid. Only 8 of Indonesia's 25 C-130's were in condition to be used, American officials said.

Any further changes would require congressional approval.

Even proponents of the restrictions - including those who have been critical of the army for its continuing rights abuses in places like Aceh Province, the site of worst devastation from the tsunami - acknowledge that the best hope for developing an army whose conduct fits a democracy is to send officers for training in the United States.

Mr. Wolfowitz pointed out on Sunday that the new Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is a former general who trained at the Army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

He has made clear that in restoring assistance, the United States would not excuse past abuses and would press the Indonesian military to make changes to prevent such abuses. Any renewed assistance would have to be closely monitored, proponents of changes said.

Adm. Thomas B. Fargo, the head of the Pacific Command, said in an interview that the Indonesian military had already taken several steps - from no longer allowing officers to hold seats in Parliament, to centralizing control over special forces - and said he favored restoring full military ties.

Admiral Fargo is seeking Pentagon approval to expand a series of conferences his command has sponsored with Indonesian military officers on civil-military relations, democratic institutions and other nonlethal training, a spokesman said.

The Indonesian defense minister, Juwono Sudarsono, said Sunday at a news conference with Mr. Wolfowitz that he was trying to make needed changes in the 350,000-member military despite a limited budget.

Mr. Sudarsono sought to remove one possible irritant in relations between the United States and Indonesia by pulling back from his government's announcement last week that foreign militaries assisting the relief operations would have to leave by March 26, the three-month anniversary of the tsunami.

The comments had roiled some in Congress, who had viewed the remarks as an ungrateful reply to a surge of emergency American relief aid, particularly from Navy helicopters flying into remote coastal areas from the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and other ships off the western coast of Sumatra.

Mr. Sudarsono said Sunday that March 26 was not a deadline for foreign militaries, but rather the date by which the Indonesian government would try to improve and accelerate its ability to oversee all relief efforts. "Foreign military operations providing relief and rehabilitation will be allowed to continue, albeit on a reduced scale," he said.

Here in Indonesia, Mr. Sudarsono said it was difficult to bolster the military's public image, especially in places like Aceh Province, which had the greatest number of deaths from the tsunami and where a separatist rebellion has simmered for decades. He said he had placed a full-page advertisement in Indonesian newspapers to thank the military for its efforts in helping tsunami victims.

He also appealed to Washington to provide more training for officers, particularly in management and on the technical aspects of defense, and Mr. Wolfowitz responded that such training made sense for a military in a democracy.

Officials from both the United States and Indonesia said that the Indonesian military's handling of the crisis in Aceh could influence members of Congress on the issue of restrictions. But perhaps more important, it might also open the door to a settlement of the long-simmering strife there, American officials said.

"If the military proves itself in Aceh, and shows they can do something other than kill people there, it could bring about a settlement," said one American military official who had studied the tensions there but who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not have an official policy making position.

Before the tsunami, Aceh was mostly off limits to foreigners, including aid workers. Martial law was declared in the province in May 2003 and relaxed to a state of "civil emergency" last year, as some 40,000 troops weakened the rebels.

Human rights groups have accused the Indonesian military of severe abuses of civilians.

Mr. Wolfowitz will wrap up his inspection of the tsunami-stricken region with a visit to Sri Lanka on Monday to review the damage there as well as American military relief operations. He visited Thailand earlier in the weekend.


The Washington Post Monday, January 17, 2005

Indonesian Calls for Easing of U.S. Restrictions

Defense Minister Seeks Improved Military Relations, Help in Training Officers

By Josh White Washington Post Staff Writer

JAKARTA, Indonesia, Jan. 16 -- Indonesia's defense minister on Sunday called on the United States to ease its restrictions on military relations between the two nations and to help train Indonesian military leaders, reaching out during the period of cooperation that has emerged in the wake of the devastating tsunami last month.

Following a meeting with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, Juwono Sudarsono said the two had discussed the strained military relations and ways to improve them. The United States has limited involvement with Indonesia's military because of concerns that soldiers have violated human rights in several areas, including the rebellious Aceh province, site of the most horrific tsunami destruction.

photo: Indonesian Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono, left, and Paul D. Wolfowitz, U.S. deputy defense secretary, arrive at a Jakarta hotel to talk with reporters. (Dadang Tri -- Reuters)

Wolfowitz said there could be significant benefits to improved military ties, suggesting as an example that Indonesian forces would be better prepared to deal with crises following natural disasters. He cited the success of cooperation with disaster relief in Thailand -- a longtime ally that has allowed the United States and other countries to set up a regional support base inside its borders -- as a reason for the U.S. government to possibly rethink relations with Indonesia.

"I think if we're interested in military reform here, and certainly this Indonesian government is and our government is, I think we need to reconsider a bit where we are at this point in history going forward," Wolfowitz said, adding that good relations with the Thai military allowed for a quicker response to the tsunami, probably saving lives.

Sudarsono praised U.S. forces for being "the backbone" of logistical operations providing assistance to ravaged areas and emphasized that what was initially described as an Indonesian deadline for foreign troop withdrawal -- set for March 26 -- was intended as a target date for the Indonesian government to take responsibility for the relief effort within its own borders.

"It is a benchmark for the Indonesian government to improve and accelerate its relief efforts so that by March 26 the large part of the burden of the relief effort will be carried by the Indonesian government and the Indonesian authorities on the ground," Sudarsono said at a midday news conference with Wolfowitz. "Foreign military assistance, foreign military operations providing relief and rehabilitation will be allowed to continue, albeit on a reduced scale."

Sudarsono later said that he wants to convince the U.S. Congress that the Indonesian military is trying to reform and needs training assistance and funding. Indonesia is working toward tighter civilian control over a traditionally powerful military but is struggling to adequately fund the effort. Sudarsono said the country needs more than the $1.1 billion allotted in its annual budget for its 350,000-member military, and the lack of funding complicates work to reconfigure and centralize the force. He estimated it would take 10 years for junior officers to be properly trained in management skills.

"That's no excuse for some of their alleged human rights abuses that have been taking place for the past 25 years," Sudarsono said, "but it is a measure of our challenge, that part of the problem in developing and building a more accountable defense force is to improve its budget, to improve its training, to improve its ability to manage its budget in a more professional manner."

Currently, the United States provides noncombat training to Indonesian forces in a series of conferences each year that focus on democratic principles. Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. military has also aided Indonesia in counterterrorism training.

A senior U.S. military official said that Indonesian military officials have effectively been removed from government positions and that Gen. Endriartono Sutarto, the military chief, accepts that he is subordinate to elected civilian officials. Still, the official said, there has been a lack of accountability for past human rights abuses, and the military is fractured and accused of mistreating people in Aceh.

Wolfowitz said efforts are underway to work within the present embargo and legal framework to get Indonesia as much help as possible, adding that the U.S. military has helped the country obtain spare parts for disabled Indonesian C-130 aircraft to help with the relief effort. Even that effort has been a point of tension between Indonesia and the United States because of concerns that the Indonesian military was using the planes for questionable and aggressive tactics against rebels.

Wolfowitz met Sunday with several Indonesian leaders, including the country's president. He said that, for now, it is more important to focus on the relief efforts than military relations.

"If we're successful in fulfilling our humanitarian obligations then we can think beyond it, but let's not mess things up because we're worried about other problems prematurely," Wolfowitz said.

He added that he wants U.S. forces to withdraw from the area as soon as is responsibly possible, in part because of the strain already being put on the military by the conflict in Iraq and upcoming elections there, and in part so U.S. personnel in South Asia can return home. The USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier that was diverted to the region after the tsunami, had been on its way back to the United States from Hong Kong when it received its new mission.

Wolfowitz's trip to Indonesia is scheduled to end Monday morning. He plans to head to Sri Lanka to survey tsunami damage and U.S. military relief efforts there before heading back to the Pentagon.

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