|Subject: Age: We must not get back in bed
with Kopassus [+Renew ties]
The Age (Melbourne) August 14, 2003
We must not get back in bed with Kopassus
Memo General Cosgrove: the Indonesian special forces are cruel and incompetent, writes Damien Kingsbury.
The push by the Australian Government to renew its association with the Indonesian military's feared Kopassus special forces is perhaps the most doubtful proposition in what has been a history of questionable arrangements.
The rationale is that, should Australians be kidnapped by terrorists in Indonesia, the anti-terrorist Group V of Kopassus is the only organisation we could count on.
Kopassus Group V has engaged in two previous hostage rescue missions. The first was in 1981, when a Garuda aircraft was hijacked by Islamic extremists to Bangkok airport. The rescue mission freed 50 passengers and left dead three hijackers, one Kopassus member and members of the aircraft crew. Two captured hijackers who left Bangkok with Kopassus alive arrived in Jakarta dead.
The second operation was when the Free Papua Movement (OPM) kidnapped nine members of the Worldwide Fund for Nature in 1996. Despite being supported by mercenaries from Executive Outcomes, Kopassus failed to find the hostages, even though they were within kilometres of them for days. Eventually the OPM killed two Indonesian hostages and freed the Europeans. The freed hostages found their way to a regular army unit, not Kopassus. None of the OPM kidnappers was found.
The history of Kopassus's other activities reads more like that of a terrorist organisation, which is not surprising given that the techniques and tactics of terror are explicitly outlined in chapter five of a confidential Kopassus training manual.
This terrorism dates to the anti-communist massacres of the mid-1960s, and in 1975 the murder of Australian journalists and subsequent invasion of East Timor.
Kopassus also set up the Islamic organisation Komando Jihad that hijacked the plane in 1981 and which has since emerged as Jemaah Islamiah.
Along the way, Kopassus has murdered and tortured political activists, trade unionists and human rights workers. It has also trained, equipped and led militias in East Timor, West Papua and Aceh, and Kopassus members trained the notorious Laskar Jihad Islamic militia, which stepped up conflict in the Ambon region, leaving up to 10,000 dead. It was Kopassus that murdered Papuan independence leader Theys Eluay in 2001, and who Indonesian police say killed three teachers (two of whom were American) and wounded 12 others in an ambush near the Freeport mine last year. For this, the US Congress extended its existing ban on contact with the Indonesian military.
Kopassus still trains and organises the militias in West Timor that continue cross-border destabilisation operations into East Timor, according to a range of senior UN officials I spoke to there just weeks ago, and based on the Kopassus and militia members I saw in West Timor days later. It is because of these cross-border raids that the Australian army has extended its stay in East Timor.
Then there are the Kopassus businesses, protection rackets and other criminal activities that provide most of its funds and help ensure it is not officially accountable.
So why then the push for renewing links? General Peter Cosgrove's support for renewing Kopassus links is driven by a narcissistic sense of military "professionalism", in which military-to-military links should be retained regardless of the behaviour of such militaries. This has underwritten Australia-Indonesia military ties since the 1970s, and was sustained throughout the darkest years of Indonesia's New Order.
The Australian Government, meanwhile, has been driven by a desire to satisfy requests from the Bush Administration, since mid-2000, that Australia form closer relations with Indonesia, especially since September 11 as part of the war on terror.
General Cosgrove and others claim that Indonesia's anti-terrorist alternative to Kopassus, the national police Gegana unit, is not sufficiently trained for hostage release.
However, there are numerous precedents for the militaries of one country working in another in hostage situations - Kopassus in Thailand is but one example - and Australia's own SAS and federal police are certainly better equipped to handle any hostage situation in Indonesia should it arise.
Australia is also intending to help train its Indonesian anti-terrorist counterpart. Yet Kopassus has proven time and again that it has a culture of violence, especially against civilians.
Australia should not again become an accessory to such anti-civilian violence.
Dr Damien Kingsbury is head of philosophical, political and international studies at Deakin University and the author of Power Politics and the Indonesian Military (RoutledgeCurzon 2003).
Scrapbook: ANU's Alan Dupont says renew Kopassus ties
While bilateral police co-operation post-Bali has exceeded expectations, Kopassus is still Indonesia's pre-eminent counter-terrorist organisation and will naturally expect to be involved in any collaborative arrangements to deal with future terrorist incidents.
Those who argue that Australia's counter-terrorist co-operation should be confined to the Indonesian police ignore this reality and evince a well- meaning, but ill-conceived, moral absolutism. The police are hardly paragons of virtue, just as Kopassus is not the personification of all evil.
Quarantining or marginalising Kopassus is unachievable in practice and would be self-defeating. Such a policy would alienate not just Kopassus but the whole of TNI [the Indonesian military] and would have negative consequences for Australia-Indonesia relations.
A more productive approach [than confining our bilateral counter-terrorist co- operation to the Indonesian police] would be to pursue a policy of tailored engagement entailing a multidimensional approach to security co-opperation with Indonesia that includes, rather than isolates, Kopassus and focuses on joint operations and intelligence gathering against Jemaah Islamiah and other fundamentalist groups. Excluding Kopassus because of its human rights record provides no incentives for good behaviour. A policy of tailored engagement will create opportunities for influence that can come [only] through personal contact and sustained dialogue.
-- From Australian National University's Alan Dupont in Agenda