Sat, 19 Jul 2003

RI calls U.S. aid blockade a hasty

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja and Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Jakarta branded the United States House of Representatives' vote against providing aid to the Indonesian Military (TNI) as hasty, as the joint investigation into the Timika ambush in Papua last year remained underway.

Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa said on Friday that the U.S. move did not take into account that the cooperation between the two governments to probe the incident was continuing.

"This is a hasty decision ... they should not have taken a decision until the ongoing investigation jointly conducted by the two governments has been completed," Marty told a press briefing.

He said the planned US$400,000 military aid for the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, although not a large amount, was needed to improve the professionalism of TNI.

The U.S. House approved an amendment on Wednesday to deny Indonesia military assistance funds as part of a bill it passed on State Department programs for the next two years.

With the amendment, the IMET funds would be withheld "until the Indonesian government decides to cooperate with U.S. investigators and provide credible and honest answers about the attack", said Republican Joel Hefley, who put forth the measure.

The House's preliminary reports said TNI personnel were allegedly involved in the ambush near the U.S. giant mining company PT Freeport Indonesia in August last year, in which two Americans and an Indonesian were killed. The victims were all teachers of the Freeport internal language training program.

Although President George W. Bush's administration has expressed an opposite opinion, the final decision for the IMET disbursement is up to the House.

The dissenting opinion between the Bush administration and the House has also retained the arms embargo imposed on Indonesia following the East Timor atrocities in 1999.

A Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) team has visited Indonesia twice to investigate the Freeport incident jointly with Indonesian security forces.

While the FBI's first visit met with resistance from the Indonesian side, their second visit lasted more than two weeks and the FBI agents managed to take evidence with them for forensic tests, National Police spokesman Adj. Sr. Comr. Zainuri Lubis said on Friday as quoted by Reuters.

The five-strong FBI team left Jakarta two or three days ago.

TNI Commander Gen. Endriartono Sutarto, however, played down the U.S. House's decision.

"It's their right. Besides, we're not asking for their help," Endriartono said on the sidelines of an inspection of soldiers who were preparing for an international mission to the Congo.

"It's up to them whether to help or not. I don't understand why they should even reconsider it, because we (the TNI) have never received any funds at all."

Endriartono maintained that TNI was not involved in the fatal attack on the Freeport employees.