etmnlong.gif (2291 bytes) spacer Indonesian NGOs Write U.S. Government on Military Ties
Press release on letters

Identical  letters were sent to Secretary of State Albright, Secretary of Defense Cohen and National Secuirty Advisor Sandy Berger.

June 12, 2000

Dear _________,

We are writing to you regarding the discussions in the US Administration on the resumption of US military ties with and assistance to the Indonesian armed forces (TNI). We, as Indonesian citizens and NGO leaders, wish to offer our views on the matter and help you make a more informed decision. If the US government wishes to cooperate with and supply aid to the TNI, that is its prerogative. But it should not claim that by so doing, it is helping democracy in Indonesia.

We are perplexed by the alacrity with which the Pentagon is resuming normal relations with the TNI since none of the conditions which the Congress stipulated last November in the Foreign Operations Appropriation law have been met. The West Timor refugee problem still exists, the military officers responsible for crimes against humanity (viz., forcible deportation, mass murder, and large-scale property destruction) in East Timor last September have not yet been brought to justice (and may well never be brought to justice given the serious flaws in the government’s judicial process for the case), and the military remains an institution largely unaccountable to the civilian leadership. Most importantly, the military has not disbanded the East Timorese militias who are continuing to stage attacks on United Nations troops along the border.

We are disturbed by this quick resumption of military assistance since the positive effect the US suspension has had is now in danger of being squandered. The military has been half-heartedly cooperating in resolving the outstanding problems of its previous crimes largely because it has been desperate to regain the US stamp of approval. Once it obtains that approval, it is likely to return to its old practices.

We do not ask the US government to actively assist the pro-democracy movement in Indonesia. We do, however, ask the US government to make our job easier by stopping its aid to our greatest obstacle: the Indonesian military. Foreigners having the good fortune of living under a democratic system may not realize just how powerful and unaccountable the Indonesian military is. The military runs a parallel government called the "territorial structure." This is a well-entrenched nationwide structure from which the military polices Indonesian citizens. There are no laws governing the military’s interventions into civilian life except emergency decrees of 1965-66, still in force, that give it carte blanche to do what it wills.

Given that the Indonesian military makes no distinction between national defense and domestic policing (it is all "national security"), the US government must admit that any training and aid provided to the military can just as easily be used against Indonesian citizens as external enemies. The Indonesian military is, according to its official doctrine of "dual function," not just a military, but a political power inside the country. The Pentagon can not claim that its ties to the TNI are military-to-military ties since the TNI is not a conventional military devoted exclusively to defense against external aggression. The TNI today remains committed to the "dual function" doctrine and is making no moves to renounce it.

We view the Pentagon’s justifications for its resumed ties with the TNI – improving professionalism and respect for human rights – as cynical attempts to legitimize a decision based on narrow conceptions of US strategic interests. The problem with the Indonesian military is a political one, not a technical one; it can not be remedied by any amount of training or dollars from an outside country. Removing the military from the political and economic life of the country requires the military to relinquish power. But so long as the military – the shadow government of this country – receives legitimation from the US, as it did for the thirty three long dark years of the Suharto dictatorship, it will feel more confident to refuse the public’s demand for the reduction of its powers.

That the Pentagon has excluded the Indonesian army from the resumed military relations hardly makes these relations any more legitimate. The military as a whole is an unaccountable institution enjoying impunity, not just the army. Services other than the army have been involved in human rights abuses in places such as Aceh and East Timor. The military’s revenue, not just the army’s, is unknown to the civilian leaders, including the President himself, since so much of it is outside the budget.

We were displeased to learn about the U.S. regional exercise called Cobra Gold, which went forward in May with Indonesian military observers. However, we are much more disturbed by indications that the U.S. Pentagon is trying to push forward a participatory exercise known as Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) this summer. We know of previous CARAT exercises and are keenly aware of their use to train Indonesian officers in assault tactics, despite their being described by some as "humanitarian operations." In fact, last year, military personnel trained in CARAT left right from that training to join the military’s criminal actions in East Timor after its vote for independence.

We expect that those outside of Indonesia who are sincerely concerned about democracy inside Indonesia would not wish to offer support to the military at this delicate time when the military is still resisting compliance to international demands for shutting down the

East Timorese militias, allowing the refugees to return to East Timor, and bringing officers involved in crimes against humanity to trial.

Until the TNI renounces its "dual function" doctrine which justifies its interventions into domestic politics, US military aid to it is indefensible. By approving military relations and assistance to the TNI, the US government, whether it realizes it or not, would be making a political decision to strengthen the anti-democratic political power of the TNI within Indonesia.


Johnson Panjaitan 
Director, Legal Aid and Human Rights Association of Indonesia (PBHI)

Ifdhal Kasim 
Director, Institute of Research and Human Rights Advocacy (ELSAM)

Hilmar Farid 
Vice-Director, Volunteer Team for Humanity (TRK)

Munir Director
Commission for Disappeared Persons and Victims of Violence (KONTRAS)

Lefidus Malau 
Solidarity Forum with the People of East Timor (FORTILOS)

Binny Buchori 
Executive Secretary, Indonesian NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID)

ETAN's Press Release on Resuming of Military Ties

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