Subject: IPS: U.S. Likely to Again Sever Military Ties

Inter Press Service September 7, 2000, Thursday

RIGHTS-INDONESIA: U.S. Likely to Again Sever Military Ties By Jim Lobe WASHINGTON, Sep. 7

The Clinton administration is on the verge of once again breaking off military ties with the Indonesian armed forces after recent militia violence claimed the lives of several U.N. peacekeepers and aid workers, as well as a U.S.-based human rights activist.

While a final decision has not yet been reached, Washington is expected to cancel planned shipments of spare parts which the Indonesian army needs for its aging fleet of C-130 transport planes and to suspend scheduled visits of U.S. military officials to Indonesia.

A number of lawmakers and human-rights groups are calling for strong action to show Washington's condemnation of the Indonesian army (known by the acronym TNI), particularly after this week's killings of three U.N. refugee workers, including a U.S. citizen from Puerto Rico, by a mob in West Timor and the discovery of the body of Jafar Siddiq Hamzah, a highly respected, New York-based human rights activist who disappeared in Medan in northern Sumatra on Aug. 5.

"The killing of Jafar Siddiq Hamzah and hundreds of others in Aceh and the recent attacks on international aid workers in West Timor require the U.S. to take unequivocal, decisive public action before more lose their lives," said Lynn Fredriksson, Washington director of the East Timor Action Network, an influential activist group here.

The killing of the three U.N. workers provoked particular concern, both because it was the most deadly of scores of attacks on U.N. relief workers and because TNI forces present at the scene reportedly did nothing to prevent or stop the attack.

In a formal statement, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that in a meeting at U.N. headquarters yesterday, she told Indonesian President Abdurrahim Wahid that "Indonesian military forces responsible for maintaining order are failing at this most basic duty" and added that the militias, which have been supported by the TNI, should be disarmed and disbanded.

The new push to break off military ties comes just a few months into what the administration calls a "phased resumption" of relations that began in May when Indonesian officers were invited to take part in a U.S.-sponsored regional military conference.

The invitation was the first indication of a rapprochement since all military cooperation was suspended by Clinton in September 1999 after the TNI and TNI-backed militias killed hundreds of East Timorese and destroyed most of the territory's buildings and infrastructure in retaliation for an overwhelming vote in favor of independence from Indonesia in a U.N.-sponsored referendum.

Congress later approved an amendment to the 2000 foreign aid bill banning all military assistance to the TNI until it fulfilled six conditions, including bringing to justice members of the armed forces and militias responsible for the violence; permitting all refugees in West Timor to return home; and preventing militias from infiltrating East Timor.

The TNI so far has failed to meet any of these conditions, although Indonesian prosecutors last week named 19 officers and militia leaders as suspects in the East Timor violence.

Nonetheless, the administration, largely at the Pentagon's behest, decided to launch a rapprochement, the first phase of which includes Indonesian participation in regional military conferences and other high-level meetings; joint "humanitarian" exercises, one of which took place in July; and the supply of certain kinds of "non-lethal" equipment, such as spare parts for aircraft.

The Indonesians were particularly eager to get the spare parts, the absence of which has effectively grounded much of their transport fleet. The parts, they argued, were desperately needed to transport troops and supplies to areas of sectarian conflict, especially the islands of Maluku where clashes between Christians and Muslims have taken thousands of lives in the past year.

But the administration's plan has come under increasing fire, particularly since July, when U.N. officials reported a major upsurge in militia activity along the border between East and West Timor. Scores of militia members have since infiltrated into East Timor.

Two U.N. peacekeepers -- one from New Zealand and one from Nepal -- were killed in separate skirmishes with the infiltrators along the border in July and August; the first casualties suffered by the operation.

U.S. officials believe that the militias are actively supported and organized by the TNI, a conclusion bolstered by the fact that militia members caught or killed in recent months have carried new weapons and have been dressed in TNI uniforms. One infiltrator actually had an identity card from the TNI's elite Kopassus military unit.

"These raids are taking place under the nose of elite Indonesian troops," said Mike Jendrzejczyk of Human Rights Watch. "The militias are well-armed, well-organized, well-trained, and they've got apparently inexhaustible supplies of ammunition. If the army is not stopping them, that's because it's chosen not to do so."

A bipartisan group of 18 congressmen, in a letter to Clinton on Aug. 18, also drew attention to reports that TNI-backed militias have been operating in Irian Jaya and in support of Muslim forces in Maluku.

The congressmen, who included the Republican chairman of the House International Relations Committee, added that violence and harassment have intensified against the more than 100,000 East Timorese refugees, who were forced from their homes into militia-controlled refugee camps in West Timor during last year's rampage.

Insisting that military ties should be renewed only when "minimal standards of decent and civilized behavior," are met, the lawmakers warned that "assisting an entity that flouts these standards confers a United States 'seal of approval' that sends exactly the wrong signal to that entity, to its innocent victims, and to other such entities and victims around the world."

Top officials in the State Department and the National Security Council appear now to be pressing that case within the administration in light of this week's events in West Timor and Aceh, where secessionist feeling is running high and the TNI's repression, which has included hundreds of disappearances and killings in recent months, appears to have escalated.

The body of Jafar Siddiq, a lawyer and founder of the International Forum on Aceh, was discovered with four other unidentified victims near Medan on Sept. 3 and identified by his family yesterday.

He disappeared during a visit to Aceh designed to draw attention to the TNI's repression and the lack of progress in bringing to justice those responsible for thousands of killings which took place between 1990 and 1999. Human rights groups have charged that the circumstances of his disappearance -- and the failure of the police so far to identify or arrest any suspects - - suggests military involvement.

After negotiations with the Free Aceh Movement, Wahid declared a "humanitarian pause" in the conflict in Aceh in May, but in practice, according to HRW Asia director Sidney Jones, serious abuses continue to be committed by the security forces.

Whether Wahid can do much about the situation in either West Timor or Aceh, however, is doubtful, according to both U.S. officials and Indonesia experts.

While Wahid has purged much of the high command since he became president last October, most of the power, says Dan Lev, an Indonesia specialist at the University of Washington in Seattle, lies with local commanders who are looking out for their own interests.

"The officers at the top have no way of overcoming the involvement of junior officers and troops," according to Lev, who also favors aborting the military rapprochement. "The commands in Jakarta are completely at sea."

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