Subject: SCMP: Canberra Planned Secret Kopassus Base

South China Morning Post

August 22, 2001

Canberra Planned Secret Kopassus Base Files Reveal Abandoned 1994 Proposal To Aid Terrorist Crackdown By Indonesian Elite Special Forces


The Government planned to help build a counter-terrorist training base in Indonesia for the country's elite special forces, according to confidential government documents.

The 1994 plan, which was never made public, was proposed by Canberra despite controversy over the poor human rights record of Kopassus, the Indonesian army's special forces.

The revelation follows weekend reports that during the 1990s Australia aspired to become a big arms exporter to Asian countries, hoping to sell up to A$ 1 billion (HK$ 4.1 billion) worth of military hardware each year. The scheme failed, partly because of inexperience and infighting among government arms salesmen.

Plans for a counter-terrorist training range were hatched under the government of prime minister Paul Keating, who was keen to develop military links between the two countries as a way of strengthening the overall relationship.

At the time, Australian troops from the elite Special Air Service regiment were involved in joint exercises with Kopassus troops in Australia and Indonesia. Some Kopassus soldiers also spent time at a counter-terrorist training range in Western Australia.

Defence documents obtained by the Australian newspaper reveal the Keating government was keen to further cement relations with Jakarta by helping to build a similar training facility in Indonesia.

It is unclear whether the range was ever built, but defence experts said yesterday such a proposal was in keeping with Australia's policy towards its neighbour during the early 1990s.

James Cotton, professor of politics at the Australian Defence Force Academy, said: "The defence relationship with Indonesia was, and is, crucial. It was thought, these people are not going to go away, so we might as well try to get on with them."

Despite concerns in Canberra about human rights violations committed by Kopassus, "successive governments chose to look the other way".

"A lot of countries started changing their minds in 1991 after a massacre in East Timor by the Indonesian military," Professor Cotton said. "In 1992 the United States withdrew its military training programme, which brought Kopassus officers to the US, because of these concerns. To some extent Australia took up the slack. In retrospect, we can be thankful this exchange the building of the range never took place."

Canberra eventually cut military links with Kopassus in 1998, following allegations of human rights abuses by Kopassus troops in the breakaway provinces of East Timor, Aceh and Irian Jaya.

Former director of defence exports Adrian Fielding confirmed the Defence Department drew up the specifications for the centre.

The project would have been extremely controversial if it had been revealed at the time.

Former foreign minister Gareth Evans wrote in an article published last month that he now thinks Australia was wrong to train Indonesian troops.

"I am one of those who has to acknowledge that many of our early training efforts helped only to produce more professional human rights abusers," he wrote.

Prime Minister John Howard said recently he would consider resuming military ties with Indonesia as the relationship between the two countries improved.

A spokesman for Defence Minister Peter Reith said Australia's only military links with Indonesia now were logistical support for aircraft and a programme under which about 20 Indonesian army officers attended Australian colleges. None were members of Kopassus, he said.

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