Subject: Congress Urged to Block New Training for Indonesian Military

U.S. Congress Urged to Block New Training for Indonesian Military

Wed Oct 9, 8:13 PM ET

Jim Lobe,OneWorld US

A group of Indonesian human rights organizations is urging the United States Congress to maintain tough conditions on renewing U.S. training of the Indonesian military (TNI) even as the administration of President George W. Bush is actively enlisting the TNI in Washington's "war on terrorism."

In a letter [] sent last week to each lawmaker, the eight organizations expressed "great alarm" at steps taken during the summer by congressional committees to lift restrictions on military training for the TNI that were first imposed more than 10 years ago after the army massacred as many as 300 civilians in East Timor.

Those restrictions were tightened in 1999 when TNI-organized militias laid waste to East Timor after the inhabitants of the former Portuguese colony voted overwhelmingly for independence in a United Nations-supervised referendum.

Restoration of military training under the State Department's International Military and Education Training (IMET) program or a new counter-terrorism program for which the administration has allocated US$4 million for TNI officers will do "irreparable our efforts at reform; any further attempts by the TNI to change old practices will almost certainly end," the groups said.

The groups include the Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence (Kontras), ELSAM-Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy, the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association, National Solidarity for Papua, Solidamor, Indonesian Human Rights Watch (Imparsial), Center for Internally Displaced People's Services, and Women's Solidarity for Human Rights. Their letter was released Tuesday by the Washington-based East Timor Action Network.

Both the TNI and the Bush administration have pushed hard for restoring full military ties and training during the past year. The administration has said the TNI's cooperation in Washington's anti-terrorism campaign is critical to its success in Southeast Asia, a major focus of al-Qaeda's outreach efforts. Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population.

Washington has insisted that al-Qaeda has links to leaders of some militant Islamist groups in Indonesia and has urged President Megawati Sukarnoputri to move against them. The government has quietly turned over two individuals wanted by Washington and last month detained a German citizen, Seyam Reda, named by Washington as an al-Qaeda operative, in what was hailed by U.S. officials as an important breakthrough in securing Jakarta's cooperation.

But experts on Indonesia and independent groups, such as those that sent the letter to Congress, contend that Washington is exaggerating the threat posed by such groups and that the much greater threat, particularly to the human rights of Indonesians, is the same TNI with which Washington is so eager to resume close ties.

"Like the U.S. government, we are also concerned about the existence of radical Islamic groups in Indonesia. But only a very small minority of Indonesians are involved with these organizations, which have little to no proven connection to international terrorist networks," the groups wrote.

"Moreover," they went on, "these groups frequently operate with covert and, in some cases, overt support of elements of the military, police, and government. The greatest threat Indonesians face, and the greatest obstacle to real democracy, is the military. If the standard definition of 'terrorism' is applied to events in Indonesia, then the true terrorists are the security forces."

Backed by reports from the State Department, these groups argue that there has been virtually no progress by the Indonesian government on meeting conditions attached to any resumption of U.S. training. Conditions included bringing to justice those responsible for the East Timor rampage, guaranteeing access for international humanitarian organizations to other zones of conflict in the sprawling archipelago, and ensuring civilian control over the military.

The groups are urging U.S. lawmakers to vote against committee bills on easing the restrictions when they go before both houses and instead to retain in full the current conditions on training.

They wrote that the TNI continues to use militias in other conflict areas, such as Aceh, Papua, and the Maluku islands to terrorize the local population and human rights activists and pursue its own political and economic interests.

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