Fri, 04 Jul 2003

Despite rights abuse charges, UN invites TNI to Congo

Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

After much criticism for alleged rights abuse in East Timor, the Indonesian Military (TNI) has apparently regained the trust of the international community and will participate in maintaining world peace by sending troops to a UN-sanctioned peacekeeping mission in Congo, a country mired in civil war.

TNI chief of general affairs Lt. Gen. Djamari Chaniago said on Thursday that 175 soldiers from the three military forces would leave for the Central African country on July 14, three days after the UN conducts a final inspection of the troops' preparation, slated for July 10 and July 11.

The troops will be deployed to the Congo's Bunia area and be there for about nine months to one year.

"The sending of troops (to the Congo) shows that despite numerous security problems at home, we're still willing to take part in the world peace missions," Djamari told the media as he, along with several high-ranking officers, held an inspection at the Army's Corps of building engineers headquarters in Lenteng Agung, Depok, south of Jakarta.

Djamari was referring to various domestic conflicts which require TNI troops, including the ongoing military campaign against secessionists in Aceh.

The Indonesian peacekeeping mission consists of 111 Army soldiers, two Air Force soldiers, 28 Marine officers and 34 military medical staffers.

"Some of them are bomb specialists and will help clear the Bunia area from land mines," Djamari said.

The dispatch of Indonesian troops to Congo is the first since the country has had to deal with vocal international protests over various rights abuse cases in East Timor.

Many believe that the TNI was responsible for the violence and destruction that took place in the territory in 1999.

To restore security in East Timor, the UN was forced to send a multinational force of peacekeeping troops led by neighboring Australia.

Indonesia has participated in several UN peacekeeping missions since 1957, under the so-called Garuda Contingent. Its first troop deployment was to help with security in the Middle East with Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This year's deployment to the Congo will not be the first. Indonesia twice sent troops to the Central African country, in 1960 and 1963.

The Indonesian troops then continued their involvement in restoring security in several conflict-prone areas, such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Kuwait, Somalia, South Africa and the Philippines.

In 1994, Indonesia sent a peacekeeping mission to maintain peace in Bosnia, which was hit by the civil war. That was the last time it was invited to a peacekeeping mission.