Subject: WP Kopassus update: U.S. Floats Plan to Lift Ban
The Washington Post March 3, 2010
U.S. Floats Plan to Lift Ban on Training Indonesia's Kopassus Unit
By John Pomfret, Washington Post Staff Writer
As President Obama prepares to travel to Indonesia, his administration
is seeking to reverse a 12-year-old ban on training an elite unit of the
Indonesian military whose members have been convicted of beatings,
kidnappings and other abuses.
The administration is floating a plan to test a training program for
younger members of the Indonesian Komando Pasukan Khusus, or Kopassus.
Four members of the force, including its commanding general, Maj. Gen.
Lodewijk Paulus, are in Washington to discuss the proposal, several
"The details are still being worked out," said a spokesman
for the Indonesian Embassy. After a meeting with the chief of the U.S.
Pacific Command, Adm. Robert F. Willard, in Jakarta in February,
Indonesia's defense minister, Purnomo Yusgiantoro, predicted that
collaboration between the United States and Kopassus would resume.
The Obama administration's move reflects a desire to improve ties with
Indonesia and other countries in Southeast Asia as part of efforts to
counter China's rise. When Obama attended a summit of Southeast Asian
nations in Singapore in November, four heads of state urged the United
States not to disengage from Asia and said the area needed an American
counterbalance to China. Increasing defense cooperation with Indonesia and
other nations in the region is a linchpin of this policy.
"It's a very good sign," Ernie Bower, an expert on Southeast
Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said of the
arrival of the Kopassus delegation. "It's amazing that they are
Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, is also a key
partner in the fight against Islamist extremists. During George W. Bush's
administration, Washington and Jakarta tightened intelligence cooperation
-- although it was kept low-key because the Indonesian government was
concerned that extremists could capitalize on its close ties with the
United States to gain followers.
In seeking to strengthen ties with Kopassus, the Obama administration
is going further than its predecessor, which attempted to resume training
operations with Kopassus but was warned off by a State Department ruling
Under a 1997 measure known as the Leahy Law, the United States is
banned from training foreign military units with a history of human rights
violations unless the government in question is taking effective measures
to bring those responsible to justice.
The Obama administration is seeking to thread that needle, sources
said, by training and conducting joint exercises only with Kopassus
soldiers who, because of their age, could not have been involved in the
unit's earlier abuses. (Australian forces currently train Kopassus
soldiers, in human rights issues among other things.)
There is some opposition to the new policy, though, from Obama's own
"We know there are some who favor resuming aid to Kopassus, but
U.S. law requires the government of Indonesia to take effective measures
to bring Kopassus members to justice," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy
(D-Vt.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the State
Department and foreign operations and wrote the Leahy Law.
Speaking about Obama's trip to Indonesia, which is scheduled to start
March 20, Leahy said, "It would be a mistake to walk away now from an
important principle that has been a consistent element of our policy
through several U.S. administrations."
In a Feb. 4 letter to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Brad Adams,
the Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said his organization was
opposed to the administration's plan because, he contended, Indonesia has
not done enough to prosecute human rights violators in its security
"Unfortunately, human rights abusers continue to serve and be
promoted through the ranks of [the Indonesian armed forces], notably in
Kopassus," Adams wrote.
Adams cited the case of Lt. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin, who was appointed
deputy defense minister on Jan. 6, 2009, despite long-standing allegations
of his involvement, as a senior Kopassus officer, in the disappearance in
the late 1990s of pro-democracy student activists and in violence by
Indonesian troops and militias around the time of East Timor's referendum
on independence in 1999. The United States denied Sjamsoeddin entry into
the country in September.
Kopassus served as the muscle for Suharto's regime until he was forced
to resign in 1998. Led for several years by Suharto's son-in-law, Maj.
Gen. Prabowo Subianto, it has been linked to assassinations, the
instigation of anti-Chinese riots and disappearances of government
After Suharto's departure, Kopassus's leadership was changed, but
apparently no sustained effort was made to prosecute human rights abuses.
For example, Adams wrote, in 1997 and 1998, as the Suharto regime fell, 23
student activists were abducted. Nine were released, one was found dead,
and 13 remain missing. In 1999, a military court convicted eight Kopassus
officers and three noncommissioned officers of kidnapping. Of the 11,
seven were serving in the military as of 2007, and all had received
promotions, Human Rights Watch said.
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