Subject: For One Widowed American, Bush's Indonesia Switch Stokes Ire

Pacific News Service, October 28, 2003

News Feature

For One Widowed American, Bush's Indonesia Switch Stokes Ire

By Jacqueline Koch, Pacific News Service

A survivor of a brutal attack on schoolteachers in Indonesia last year is lobbying hard against renewing U.S. aid to the Indonesian military.

When President Bush suggested recently that the United States was ready to renew military aid to Indonesia, schoolteacher Patsy Spier was outraged. Spier was wounded in an August 2002 ambush in Eastern Indonesia that injured 11 others and killed three, including Spier's husband Rick and another American.

According to Indonesia's own National Police, there was a "strong possibility" Indonesian soldiers were behind the attack. During his recent trip through Asia, however, Bush suggested the U.S. military embargo imposed on the Indonesian military, or TNI, for atrocities in East Timor might end. "Congress has changed their attitude," Bush said, due in part to Indonesia's "full cooperation" with the FBI to track down the ambush gunmen.

"I am very aware that if he (Bush) wants to do it, he can do it," Spier says of resuming aid to the Indonesian military. "He doesn't need Congress's approval, and that's what scares me."

Spier was shot twice and nearly died of blood loss before she was evacuated from a mountainside in West Papua, Indonesia. She and her husband taught at Tembagapura International School, established for employees of Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc. of New Orleans. The company operates a massive mining complex that includes the largest gold mine in the world.

The Spiers and their colleagues, traveling the mining road in a two-car convoy, were heading home from a picnic. Suddenly, gunmen arrived in a Freeport company vehicle and opened fire.

"I'm hearing this popping," Spier recounted, "and then it registered (as gunfire) and that was when I was hit."

The ambush lasted a terrifying 45 minutes. Though they were just 500 yards from a military post, "no one came," Spier says.

Amid the chaos of gunfire, shattering glass and wounded teachers' screams, Spier nearly gave up. "Just come get me," she recalls thinking. "Shoot me in the head... I felt that Rick was gone."

Ted Burgon, another American, and Indonesian Bambang Riwanto were also killed. Eleven people were seriously wounded, including a 6-year-old girl. Then-Police Chief I. Made Pastika, revered for his successful investigation of the Bali bombings, concluded soldiers may have been involved. But the military reclaimed jurisdiction over the case and promptly exonerated itself. The military maintains that armed separatist rebels were behind the attack.

Many Indonesian affairs experts speculate the Indonesian military did orchestrate the ambush, as a ploy to blackmail the Freeport mining company. There are indications a protection payment scheme between Freeport and the Indonesian military soured, and payments to the military had either been reduced or cut off entirely.

The Indonesian military, which receives only one-third of its funding from the government, is dependent on various business arrangements, both legal and illegal.

"The military has relied on funding from Freeport and they profit from the relationship they have with Freeport," says Ed McWilliams, political counselor for the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta from 1996 to 1999.

Freeport, pressured by a shareholder resolution last March, finally revealed it indeed had paid the Indonesian military all along -- a fact the company had long withheld from the public and its shareholders. A reported $35 million has gone to the Indonesian military since 1996.

The Indonesian military, some experts speculate, may have planned the ambush as a way of pressuring Freeport to resume payments.

Experts also point to the Corporate Accountability Act, which took effect just two weeks prior to the attack. The U.S. law, drafted to stem investor anger and angst in the wake of the Enron scandal, holds corporate CEOs and their financial officers legally accountable for financial statements.

The Indonesian military has also stonewalled an FBI probe, which stands at odds with Bush's claims of "full cooperation."

According to the 1999 Leahy Amendment, specific reform benchmarks must be met for renewed U.S. military aid to Indonesia. The Bush administration has pushed to lift the ban regardless of reform. Critics of such a move cite a litany of ongoing human rights abuses by the Indonesian military.

Seizing on the "war on terror," the administration urged Congress to renew a prestigious officer-training program known as IMET (International Military Education and Training) for Indonesia.

Patsy Spier in Washington DC last May when she successfully convinced the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to withhold the IMET funds to Indonesia.

Spier, who lobbied hard to link a renewed IMET to a full, independent and unfettered FBI probe, helped convince the Senate Foreign Relations committee in May to keep IMET funds on hold. Only $400,000 had been allocated to the Jakarta IMET program in 2003, but its release would represent the first step toward normalizing military relations with Indonesia. Spier will continue to lobby. "If the Indonesian military doesn't cooperate, they shouldn't be getting IMET," she says. "It's so darn simple in my mind."

PNS contributor Jacqueline Koch ( is a freelance writer and photographer who has written extensively on Indonesia, including as a Pew Fellow in International Journalism in 2000.

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