Sat, 25 Jan 2003

Activists caution U.S. over military training

Moch. N. Kurniawan and Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

U.S. senators voted down on Thursday an attempt to limit U.S. military training for Indonesian soldiers, a move that Indonesian activists said would further dampen efforts to promote human rights in the country.

According to Agence France-Presse, the Senate voted 61-36 to reject an amendment by Senator Russ Feingold to omnibus spending bills that would have restricted a program for Indonesian military officers to come to the United States for training and education.

Budget bills for 2003 still making their way through the U.S. Congress would restore the program over the objections of legislators and rights campaigners who say Jakarta must act first to punish past human rights abuses.

Military cooperation between the two countries was sharply cut in 1999 when Congress passed the so-called Leahy Amendment following Indonesian-backed violence in East Timor.

All military aid was suspended until certain conditions were met, including effective measures to bring to justice members of the armed forces and militia groups suspected of rights abuses.

Members of the Indonesian Military (TNI) were implicated in rights abuses when pro-Jakarta militias went on the rampage after East Timor voted for independence in 1999.

Indonesian rights activist Ori Rahman from the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence regretted the U.S. decision, saying any aid to TNI would only encourage its members to commit more human rights violations.

"They should give the assistance only after TNI reforms itself, including its budget accountability," he said.

Another rights activist, Hendardi of the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Right Association, said the U.S. assistance was politically motivated to help Indonesia crack down on suspected terrorists.

"The U.S. government once stopped the assistance due to its concern over human rights violations. Now they have resumed the aid to pave the way for the war against terrorism," he said.

Military analyst Kusnanto Anggoro from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies said the vote in the U.S. Senate would surely benefit TNI through the resumption of the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program.

Kusnanto said any U.S.-provided military training should be focused on human rights, supremacy of the law and good military governance.

He added that the U.S. Senate's decision signaled that the U.S. government had become more tolerant of human rights abuses committed by TNI officers and the disappointing results of human rights trials, in which a number of military and police officers were found not guilty of rights violations in East Timor.

TNI spokesman Maj. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin gave a cautious response to the vote, saying that TNI would take into account public concerns about rights issues.

"Until now, this country and the international community are still unsatisfied with the results of the ad-hoc (human rights) trial, even though the legal process against those military and police officers accused of responsibility for the abuses was transparent.

"Critics also say that we (the military) are reluctant to acknowledge concerns over rights issues," Sjafrie said, adding that TNI would only participate in the IMET program if "it is aimed at restoring a military-to-military relationship as well as improving TNI's professionalism".