Subject: SMH: Working w/ Kopassus Could Legitimise Past Crimes
Sydney Morning Herald November 14 2002
Using war criminals to fight terrorism replaces one poison with another
Working with Kopassus could legitimise some of its officers' past crimes against humanity, writes James Dunn.
Forthe Howard Government to move to restore links with Indonesia's special forces command, Kopassus, at this time, would be an act of indecent haste. Last week, the Defence Minister, Robert Hill, said: "Kopassus is the counter-terrorist capability in Indonesia and to defeat terrorists requires co-operation and mutual support."
However, this notorious KGB-like organisation has been an instrument for state terrorism in Indonesia as well as in East Timor. Its powers may have been curbed slightly but essentially it remains unreformed, an elite force endowed with special powers which, based on reports from Papua and Aceh, continues to engage in dirty tricks.
Under Soeharto, Kopassus took on the powerful KGB-type role as the protector of the regime and the integrity of the state. The annexation of East Timor was its proud military achievement. It was officers of Kopassus, in its earlier guise (RPKAD), who planned and led the covert military operation into East Timor in October 1975, and who then became the virtual ruling military elite in the colony. They led the military campaign against the Falintil resistance, and set the pattern for political repression, through their control over intelligence operations.
Kopassus officers were behind acts of state terror far worse in their consequences than the bombings in Bali. One of these was the Creras massacre in 1983 - which the Hawke government chose to disregard.
As we were later to discover, more than 1000 Timorese, including women and children, were slaughtered in a brutal rampage.
However, the so-called militia violence and the huge destruction in 1999 is the best case study of a Kopassus operation. The militia phenomenon in East Timor was, in the first instance, the outcome of deliberate planning by Kopassus generals, principally Sjafrei Sjamsuddin and Zakky Anwar Makarim, who feared that then president Habibie's readiness to negotiate risked the loss of a territory they had shed blood to acquire for Indonesia.
They planned the structure of the militia and arranged finance and training for these units to conduct a campaign of violent intimidation. On occasion, Kopassus colonels exhorted militia leaders to kill independence supporters and nuns and priests, "for the church is our enemy".
In 1999, in the months before the Interfet arrival, Kopassus officers, including Major-Generals Zakky Anwar, Adam Damiri, Mahidin Simbolon and Brigadier-General Tono Suratnam, played key command roles in relation to the killing of more than 1000 Timorese, the destruction of 72 per cent of all buildings and houses and the forced deportation of some 250,000 Timorese to West Timor. Individual officers, such as Colonel Sediono and Lieutenant Colonel Siagian played command roles in two of the worst atrocities in East Timor, at Suai and Maliana.
What took place in East Timor in 1999 was nothing less than a Kopassus conspiracy, which other leading generals, such as Wiranto, were happy to go along with. It took the form of a classic campaign of state terrorism but the chief perpetrators seem unlikely to be brought to account for their crimes against humanity. Suddenly, their crimes are insignificant when compared with those of al-Qaeda. As things stand, none of the officers concerned has even been reprimanded.
Most have moved to other posts, often with promotions. For a time Major-General Damiri commanded TNI troops in Aceh, while his second-in-command, Mahidin Simbolon, is presently military commander in Papua, where Kopassus is again accused of engaging in dirty tricks.
It is really important, not least from our longer term security interests, that Kopassus should not at this stage be accorded the respectability we seem to be contemplating.
That should depend on a proper investigation of its past record of crimes against humanity, with those responsible being brought to account. To engage with Kopassus now, in the fight against terrorism, is risking resorting to the use of war criminals to fight war criminals.
James Dunn is a former foreign affairs specialist who served as consul in Portuguese Timor.
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