Subject: GLW: End military ties with Indonesia

From Green Left Weekly, February 1, 2006.

End military ties with Indonesia

Jon Lamb

The recent arrival of West Papuan asylum seekers in northern Australia and the restricted release of the United Nations-commissioned report from the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation on human rights abuses in East Timor have sparked renewed calls for an end to military ties with Indonesia. The Indonesian military (TNI) is also reported to be building up its troops in West Papua and carrying out actions to intimidate and attempt to crush the independence movement.

In 1999, the TNI-backed destruction of East Timor by pro-Jakarta militia resulted in a massive international backlash and protest movement, forcing Indonesia’s closest allies ­ the US, Australia and Britain ­ to suspend their supply of military training and equipment to the TNI.

These three nations have provided most of the training and resources the TNI needed to occupy East Timor for 24 years. Without their direct military assistance, especially the supply of state of the art weaponry, the subjugation of the East Timorese people could not have lasted as long as it did.

The protest and solidarity actions in 1999 in support of the East Timorese people’s right to self-determination broke the decades-long “special relationship” between Western powers and the TNI.

Resuming military ties between these governments and the TNI was made contingent on achieving justice, bringing to account the numerous leading TNI officers and militia leaders responsible for gross human rights abuses and war crimes in East Timor. But since 1999, not a single leading TNI figure involved in implementing Indonesia’s ”scorched earth” policy in East Timor has been convicted and punished. On the contrary, many have been promoted within the TNI and/or pursued successful careers and business interests outside of the military.

General Adam Damiri, for example, who played a key role in orchestrating the terror campaign in East Timor, was promoted in December 1999 to operational assistant to the armed forces chief of staff in Jakarta, heading up operations within Aceh. Likewise, Colonel Timbul Silaen, head of the police in East Timor in 1999 (and in charge of security before the August 30 independence referendum) was promoted to brigadier general and head of the newly created police “anti-corruption” force. In late 2003, he was appointed as chief of police in West Papua, around the same time that East Timorese militia leader and indicted war criminal Eurico Guterres announced he was establishing anti-independence militias there.

A sham

The UN has consistently backed away from creating an international war crimes tribunal, despite recommendations for such a tribunal from its own International Commission of Inquiry, released in early 2000. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has capitulated to concerted pressure from the US and its allies, declaring that the Indonesian government should be given the opportunity to establish its own inquiry and judicial process.

What has transpired has been a total sham. The ad hoc Human Rights Court, which from its inception in 2001 has been resolutely condemned by Indonesian human rights activists, including the government’s own human rights body KPP-HAM, has been unable to implement any punitive action against those indicted and convicted for human rights abuses in East Timor. Silaen, for example, was acquitted, and Damiri had the charges against him overturned on appeal.

While there remains public concern within the US, Britain and Australia about resuming ties with the TNI, this concern has lessened following the 2001 terrorist attack in New York, and the bombings in Jakarta and Bali and more recently London. Both the George Bush and John Howard governments have justified the need to re-engage with the Indonesian military on the basis of the need to fight terrorism and the organisations in South-East Asia that are alleged to have links with groups like al Qaeda.

Shortly after the first bombing in Bali on October 12, 2002, Australia’s then defence minister Robert Hill announced in parliament: “We are aware of the role that Kopassus has in relation to counter-terrorism responsibilities in Indonesia, and therefore it might well be in Australian interests to redevelop the relationship”. The elite Kopassus regiment has been implicated in gross human rights abuses in Aceh, West Papua and East Timor.

In December 2005, Hill reiterated the importance of renewing links with Kopassus, under the guise of count-terrorism operations, stating: “There will be occasions when the best response available is through Kopassus and we would like to see Kopassus trained to be as capable as possible.”

Within the framework of the “war on terror”, the US and Australian governments have driven the process to normalise relations with the TNI. Over the last few years this has ranged from low-level officer training through to multilateral exercises, like last year’s Exercise Kakadu, in which Indonesian naval vessels participated. Hill described Kakadu as a “major exercise in terms of regional engagement”.

Last November the US State Department declared that it was overriding restrictions imposed by Congress on US military ties with Indonesia, on the basis of US national security. The Brtish-based Indonesian human rights campaign Tapol described the decision as one that “will encourage the practice and expectation of military impunity, which remains a major obstacle to genuine democracy in Indonesia”.

While the cease-fire and negotiations in Aceh are holding for the moment, the present situation in West Papua highlights the fundamentally repressive role of the TNI, and is yet another example of why military ties with the TNI must be ended.

The number of Indonesian troops in West Papua is expected to double in the next five years, including detachments from the elite Kostrad forces. This will surely result in an increase in human rights abuses and repression across West Papua. (See the article on page 19 on events in West Papua.)

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