Tuesday, February 08, 2005

U.S. Moves to Mend Ties With Indonesian Military : A Critical Analysis

The Bush administration has made moves to resume a working relationship with the Indonesian military. In fact, $1 million of "spare parts" were "dispatched" in January for Indonesia's aging military transport jets (NY Times, Feb 7, 2005)
From the 1970's-late 90's, the US supported the Suharto regime, a brutal government with a horrible human rights record, one of the worst in the world. Anyone remember East Timor? According to the NY Times, the US "curbed military ties in 1992 and cut them back further five ears ago after the army was involved in the killings of hundreds of civilians in East Timor, a province that has since gained independence". Actually the US continued training the Indonesian military, only secretly, illegally, in defiance of Congressional intent. The program was code-named "Iron Balance", and was uncovered by Britian's Observer in September, 1999. The training included "urban guerrilla warfare, surveillance, counter-intelligence,sniper marksmanship and 'psychological operations' ". But it is ok not to talk about that?? This training continued until 1998, when the world finally noticed the brutality of the Suharto regime.
From February-July 1998, the Indonesian military, according to credible church sources, actually killed thousands, not hundreds. After the population of East Timor voted for independence, they were invaded, a quarter of a million were flushed into Indonesian territory, and around 100,000 remain in concentration camps.
The US broke off relations following these events, but did not intervene, as it has in many other nations where so called "murderous regimes" exist. Why not here, why anywhere else (Iraq, Afghanistan)? The Western powers wouldnt even drop food on the thousands of civilians stranded in the forests, starving and dying of disease...."it is their responsibility" was the official stance. All the while, the Indonesian government was busy pardoning the military leaders responsible for the atrocities.
The NY Times article stressed that for the US to resume the training of the Indonesian military, Congressional approval is necessary. Congressional dis-approval never stopped us before, why should it now? Only when things got completely out of control, and potentially disastrous for our image, did the US act in any positive way. Now we move back into support of a brutal regime, which continues to mount atrocities against its own citizens. In West Papua Province, a separatist movement has arisen, aiming for independence from Indonesia. Predictably, the military has waged a continuous campaign of terror, intimidation, and outright warfare against the mostly Christian population of this area. A militant Muslim group has even arisen as of late, further muddying the situation. This group has been used as a tool by the military to wage a "jihad" on the "heathen" (Christian) separatists. A simple web search on these topics will easy uncover credible sources on the unfolding of these events.
The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights-Indonesia Advocacy Team has been preparing regular reports on conditions in the region. Their latest release (Feb 4, 2005) cites church sources, claiming that the Indonesian forces have continued their operations, "forcing thousands of Papuan civilians to flee into the forests where lack of food, shelter and medicine have caused deaths and extensive illness". Additionally, the military has expanded its operations in neighboring districts. I think it is safe to assume that similar results will follow for the local population in these areas.
Here's another wrinkle. Some of the human rights abuses in the disputed area (West Papua) documented by the RFK Memorial Center have taken place in and around the mining operation run by PT Freeport Indonesia. Being the worlds largest copper and coal mine, PT Freeport's parent company is Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., based in...you guessed it, the United States!!!. New Orleans to be exact (Reuters). Now I dont mean to draw irrelevant connections so...come to your own.
Or, put this in your pipe: according to the Feb 7th NY Times article, China has recently opened its arms to Indonesia, offering to sell fighter jets at "concessionary rates", and extending an invitation to meet at Beijing. Could this be a motivating factor behind the administrations decision? A rosy relationship between China and Indonesia would certainly not be beneficial to the US, or the New Orleans mining company running things down in West Papua. The US cites international aid surrounding the recent tsunami disaster as the impetus for renewed communication between the two nations. The US sees Indonesia as a"potentially crucial player in its campaign against terrorism". Check out the story about the two American school-teachers murdered in West Papua District in 2002. This story, and the subsequent investigation, continues to play out, with interesting developments. First it was blamed on the Indonesian military, by the Indonesian police themselves. More recently, the US Department of Justice has levelled charges against a member of the West Papuan separatist group I spoke of (OPM). What a surprise. But the full investigation remains unresolved, and continues to develop.
Invest an hour of your time and look into these issues, then ask yourself if it would be wise/humane for the US to resume military relations with such a brutal government. After that, ask yourself why certain choices may be made, and who they benefit.


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