Subject: AP: US Envoy - Obstacles Block Indonesia Army Ties Restoration

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

US Envoy: Obstacles Block Indonesia Army Ties Restoration

JAKARTA, May 1 (AP)--The United States remains ready to normalize relations with the Indonesian army, but obstacles including suspicions of military involvement in the murder of two Americans are preventing full restoration of ties, the U.S. ambassador said Thursday.

Ralph Boyce said other obstacles include the slow pace of military reform and resistance to holding officers accountable for human rights abuses, especially in the former Indonesian territory of East Timor.

"There are very troubling questions about who was responsible" for the August killing of two American teachers and their Indonesian colleague in the eastern province of Papua, Boyce said, referring to police reports that army officers may have been involved.

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation in addition to being a key U.S. ally in the war on terror and one of the few democracies in the Islamic world. But its military has a long history of gross human rights violations.

The Clinton administration cut off all sales of military equipment to Indonesia after a 1999 independence referendum in East Timor during which hundreds of people were slain at the hands of the Indonesian military and its local proxies.

Though Washington in January reinstituted a program to train Indonesian officers in the U.S., there are no immediate plans to restore full military ties or sell arms to Indonesia, Boyce said.

The ambassador said recent trials designed to bring the perpetrators of the East Timor violence to justice were "very disappointing."

Still, Boyce praised Indonesia's efforts to root out suspected Islamic terrorists and said the country had made impressive strides toward democracy in the five years since the fall of the dictator Suharto.

However, he said a series of arrests and other blows against suspected Islamic extremists in Indonesia haven't ended the threat of terrorism here.

"It would be folly to assume they are eliminated," Ralph Boyce said of Jemaah Islamiyah, the suspected al-Qaida linked terror group believed responsible for the Oct. 12 Bali blasts that killed 202 people.

Boyce said Indonesia has moved beyond breaking up the Bali plot, developing a pro-active plan of rooting out this organization.

"That is to be commended," he said.

A series of raids this month uncovered a cache of bomb-making materials and resulted in the arrests of 18 suspected Jemaah Islamiyah members with suspected links to the Bali blasts.

Boyce said he believed Muslim extremists have become more vocal since the fall of Suharto - because of newfound freedom of expression - but not necessarily larger in number.

"To me, Indonesia remains a moderate, open, tolerant multicultural society," he said.

-Edited by Calvin Lee

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