|Subject: ITT: Here We Go Again; U.S.
considers renewing military ties to Indonesia
In These Times
Here We Go Again; U.S. considers renewing military ties to Indonesia
By Rachel Rinaldo
With lush volcanic mountains rising out of sapphire seas, the Indonesian island of Sulawesi is stunningly beautiful. In recent years, however, Sulawesi's natural beauty has been overshadowed by conflict in Poso, a small city at its center. Now, just as a fragile peace agreement has calmed violence in Poso and the surrounding areas, the island is becoming one of many justifications for the United States to renew its support for the Indonesian military.
As part of its war on terrorism, the American military has been eager to restore relations with its Indonesian counterpart. Those ties were cut off after military violence in East Timor in 1999, but are slowly being restored. Only Congress can renew direct funding for foreign military training, but there are signs the move is being considered.
In late March, U.S. Sens. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) traveled to Indonesia to discuss military cooperation with Vice President Hamzah Haz. And in late April, senior officials from the State and Defense Departments will attend a two-day forum with Indonesian officials to evaluate security cooperation between the two countries, along with the possibility of restoring full military ties. "The Bush administration is capitalizing on the argument of terror to do what they already wanted to do," says Karen Orenstein, Washington Coordinator for the East Timor Action Network. "They're just speeding it up."
Poso has experienced outbreaks of fighting since late 1998, when a dispute between Christian and Muslim youths sparked vigilante attacks. More than a thousand people have been killed, and more than 50,000 refugees remain scattered throughout several towns in the area.
The most recent fighting erupted in late November and early December, when Muslims attacked Christian villages near Poso. By the time the violence had subsided, at least 100 people were dead, thousands had fled, and hundreds of homes and other buildings had been destroyed.
In late December, government intervention persuaded both sides to sign a peace accord that appears to be holding, for now.
Experts warn that the bloodshed in Poso is not a simple religious conflict, and say that only a careful look at history can explain the violence there. In the mid-'70s, the government of General Suharto opened the Poso area to transmigrasi, a national policy of moving people from the crowded islands of Java and Sumatra to less populated areas. Transmigrasi brought in large numbers of mainly Muslim outsiders to a previously isolated, mostly Christian area.
By the '90s, many Christians felt disadvantaged and believed Muslims were getting richer faster. "The colonial regime created these divisions," says Lorraine Aragon, an anthropologist at East Carolina University, "but the policies of Suharto tried to suppress the problems, never coped with them, and [ended up] exacerbating them."
After the Suharto regime fell in 1998, tensions were renewed. The unsteady governments of B. J. Habibie and Abdurrahman Wahid did little to resolve them. Finally, in early December, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri sent more than 2,000 soldiers and police to Poso, dampening the violence.
Despite the peace accord, many are too wary of the Indonesian military's shoddy human rights record to take much solace in its presence in Sulawesi. The military and police are known for taking sides in local conflicts. "The Indonesian military is the biggest source of terror to its own people," Orenstein says.
Human rights violations by the Indonesian military are well-documented, but the Bush administration seems likely to brush them aside. Most infamously, senior military officials are suspected of directing the militia-led brutality in East Timor following the province's vote for independence in August 1999. Hundreds were killed, and more than 250,000 civilians were forced into neighboring West Timor. Eighteen mid-level officers are currently on trial in a special human rights court in Jakarta for their role in the invasion, but there are no plans to hold accountable the most senior military officers, some of whom now hold important government positions.
The arrival of the radical Muslim group Laskar Jihad in Poso last July only further complicates matters. In recent months, there has been much debate over whether Laskar Jihad has links to al-Qaeda. Formed in 2000, the group is known for its involvement in the beleaguered province of Maluku, where 9,000 people have died in fighting in the past three years. A similar, yet shakier, peace agreement was signed there in February, but Laskar Jihad still claims to have thousands of fighters in Central Sulawesi, Maluku and other areas.
The chief of Indonesia's Intelligence Agency, A. M. Hendropriyono, stated in mid-December that al-Qaeda once had a training camp near Poso. But other top Indonesian officials have denied reports of al-Qaeda connections. While there have been arrests of a number of Indonesians said to be part of a terror ring, clear links between Indonesia and al-Qaeda remain elusive.
Liem Soei Liong, a member of TAPOL, a group campaigning for human rights in Indonesia, warns that different wings of the Indonesian military have their own agendas. "Hendropriyono will use the presence of Laskar Jihad in Poso as proof of the existence of al-Qaeda in Indonesia," he says, "[because] he is pushing for the full restoration of relations between the Pentagon and the Indonesian military." The CIA and State Department have yet to find solid evidence of an al-Qaeda presence in Indonesia, Liong says. Nevertheless, "Hendropriyono's tough approach will likely impress hard-liners in Washington."
In the meantime, the Pentagon has found ways around the limitations, funding training of the Indonesian military and police from the recently created Regional Defense Counter-Terrorism Fellowship program, which has no restrictions on which countries can participate. "Over the past year, the Pentagon has rewarded the Indonesian military with training and increased contacts," Orenstein says, "but human rights conditions in Indonesia continue to deteriorate."
In March, the Bush administration requested $ 16 million in supplemental appropriations for training Indonesian military and civilian personnel, saying the money was intended for humanitarian, peacekeeping and counter-terrorism initiatives.
Orenstein and others warn that U.S. support gives the Indonesian military legitimacy and that it will capitalize on the war on terrorism to deal harshly with political opponents. Sulawesi is again relatively quiet, but it seems unlikely that the military presence will end or that the recent strife will fade away entirely. The problems here did not begin in 1998, Aragon adds: "The inequities go back much further."
The New York Times
INDONESIA'S MILITARY: Will
It Help to Help This Army?
WHEN the United States recast the Central Asian states from dubious dictatorships to necessary allies in the war on terrorism, Indonesia's generals took heart. Having enjoyed American aid during the cold war and then lost it when American policy stressed human rights in the 1990's, the top military officers in the world's largest Muslim nation began to hope that the United States would soon come calling again.
This week, in fact, Indonesia's defense minister, Matori Abdul Djalil, will be in Washington to talk up the need for reviving military relations. But he will be entering a tricky debate, in which Washington is unsure which way to step.
Should the United States back a military with a history that includes deep corruption and atrocities committed in East Timor three years ago? Some in the Bush administration argue that, whatever the history, the army is the only institution that can keep Indonesia together during the messy transition to democracy.
Or should the United States keep its distance, demanding that Indonesia's military show accountability for its past? According to this argument, popular in Congress and the State Department, only an army leadership that showed contrition could be trusted to strengthen, not weaken, democratic gains.
The sudden interest in the Indonesian military stems, of course, from the war on terrorism. Indonesians in general practice a moderate version of Islam, but a growing number of extremist Islamic groups have emerged in the last few years. Their activities, including the massacre of 14 Christians on the Molucca islands 10 days ago, appear to be tolerated by the military; some American officials point out that the army leadership has not condemned the groups.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, who was ambassador here during the Reagan administration, is likely to give Mr. Matori the most sympathetic hearing. He has said the best way to promote Indonesia as a model moderate Muslim country is for the United States to have influence over the military and help it hold the center together.
"I think it is unfortunate that the U.S. does not today have military-to-military relationships with Indonesia," Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said last week.
Those who disagree say that the Indonesian military shows few signs of reform. Dana Dillon, a retired American army officer and a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, notes that the violence in East Timor three years ago stopped only when the Indonesian Army left.
"They had 20 years to reform," said Mr. Dillon. "It didn't work with American military assistance then. Why now?"
Others, like Robert B. Oakley, a former ambassador to Zaire and Pakistan, harbor few illusions about how far American training and money can push Indonesia on the path of reform. But Mr. Oakley takes the pragmatist's view that the United States cannot afford to keep itself shut out of the military. "We can influence them a bit," he said. "we can't revolutionize them."
The history of American involvement with the Indonesian military is one of steady contraction after a high point in the 1970's and 80's.
During the cold war, Indonesian officers trained in the United States. When Indonesian troops fired in 1991 on marchers in East Timor, which was then an occupied territory of Indonesia, Congress placed human rights conditions on training. In 1994, the Clinton administration stopped the sale of small arms, and in 1998, Congress ended all American training of Indonesian soldiers after it learned that a special forces organization whose units had fired on student demonstrators had had American training.
More restrictions were added after army-backed militiamen rampaged through East Timor in 1999 after the area voted for independence. Over 1,000 East Timorese were killed, according to United Nations estimates. This week, after three years of United Nations tutelage, East Timor will gain its formal independence.
The most recent restrictions, which basically outlaw contact with the Indonesian army, are at the heart of the debate in Washington.
Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, has insisted that the military be held accountable for atrocities in East Timor. The trial of four mid-level army officers, under way now, is the most significant government effort to meet the demand.
But American officials who oppose the renewal of military ties dismiss it as a sham. Most of the defense lawyers also represent the family of Indonesia's deposed dictator, Gen. Suharto. And generals sit in the spectators' gallery, with their presence seen as an effort to intimidate the judges and prosecutors.
IN the very short term, the Pentagon may be satisfied with restoring only modest ties. It plans to push Congress for $8 million to equip and train a counterterrorism unit in the Indonesian police force and $8 million to train a peacekeeping force. The members would be vetted by the F.B.I. to weed out human-rights violators.
Gonawan Mohamad, an Indonesian weekly columnist and respected commentator, believes that in the long run the United States should try to work with the army, especially to train young officers. Now, he says, is not the moment to start because the military still needs to acknowledge its mistakes in East Timor.
But the army cannot be left to its own devices forever, he said. If that happens, he predicts, the result will be a rotten army that would only suffocate a nascent democracy.
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