Indonesia-us Military In New Pas De Deux

Jakarta. Indonesia’s much-vilified military (TNI) are feeling smug with themselves. Washington’s so-called ‘war on terrorism’ is providing them with new windows of opportunity.


In a foreign policy drive apparently shaped in part by former US Ambassador to Jakarta and leading Bush administration hawk Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Defence Secretary, Washington is giving the butchers of East Timor, West Papua and Aceh a new lease of life.


American sources in the capital, Jakarta have revealed that fresh troops deployed recently to oil and gas- rich Aceh in the far north of Sumatra to fight the separatist GAM are in possession of newly-minted US-made equipment. Aceh produces large amounts of LNG vital to the Indonesian exchequer and is also the source of substantial amounts of fertilizer crucial to the rice production of other areas of the country, particularly Java.


TNI meanwhile is talking openly of re-imposing its much-criticised ‘security approach’ in the province, where a long list of past military abuses await prosecution.


Recent overtures by American civil and military officials have given TNI reason to believe that Washington will find means of circumventing the Leahy Amendment forbidding the re-equipping of the Indonesian military. Special US envoy Robert Zoellick was in Jakarta in early April. As an upshot of his visit, a two-day security conference has been announced for April 26 in the capital as part of a plan to restore military ties between Indonesia and the US.


All this comes at a time of great hubris for TNI. Brimming with confidence, TNI has been turning the trial of military and police officers charged with crimes committed in East Timor in 1999 into a platform to attack the international community. Leading figures have sought to turn the blame for the mayhem of killing, rape and mass expulsions that followed the announcement of the referendum result on to the United Nations.


General (retd.) Wiranto, head of TNI at that juncture and a member of then-President B.J. Habibie’s Cabinet, is not on the list of accused. In early April he appeared as a trial witness and brazenly directed the blame at UNAMET, the transitional authority, accusing it of anti-Jakarta bias in the organization of the ballot. This echoes the claims of the notorious pro-Jakarta militia leader Eurico Gutteres, whose name is also absent from the charge list.


TNI’s hubris in fact knows few bounds. Wiranto and other senior figures have repeatedly ignored summonses this year from the National Commission of Human Rights panel tasked with investigating the still unsolved slayings in Jakarta of university students and others in 1998 and 1999. They simply refuse to acknowledge the Commission’s brief. Other unresolved human rights offences attributable to the military include the 1998 ‘disappearance’ of 14 young activists; the Army Special Forces (Kopassus) are known to have been behind this. Recent attacks on the offices of human rights groups in Jakarta are widely believed to be the work of military factions.


The friendly overtures of Washington are music to the TNI top brass. Indonesia’s fragile reform movement however is deeply disappointed. These developments can only further embolden major human rights abusers.



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