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Tsunami Must Not Stop Restrictions on Indonesia

Tsunami Must Not Sweep Away Restrictions on Indonesian Military

By John M. Miller

The East Timor Action Network (ETAN) today urged Congress and the Bush administration to maintain restrictions on U.S. military assistance to Indonesia. Congress has limited U.S. weapons and training support for the Indonesian military (TNI) for more than a decade because of human rights violations and other atrocities committed by Indonesia's armed forces.

"The tsunami must not be used as an excuse to sweep away U.S. military restrictions on Indonesia," said John M. Miller, spokesperson for ETAN. "The Indonesian military's behavior during the current crisis in Aceh shows it hasn't reformed. Brutal operations also continue in West Papua."

"The TNI wants to use assistance for political ends and should not be allowed to distribute aid. The people of Aceh fear the soldiers, and entrenched TNI corruption will siphon off much needed assistance," said Karen Orenstein, ETAN's Washington Coordinator. "Aid should go to tsunami victims, regardless of their political views. Neither side to the conflict should use this disaster for political or other advantage."

There are many reports of abuse of humanitarian assistance by the TNI, including withholding food and other relief from civilians who lack proper identification or are alleged to support independence. Reports also describe the TNI creating obstacles to local organizations and volunteers who are trying to distribute humanitarian assistance. The Indonesian government has said it will require soldiers to accompany international aid workers outside Banda Aceh and Meulaboh although there is no security threat.

"While providing humanitarian aid, the U.S. military must fully respect the spirit and letter of the U.S. law barring military assistance for the TNI," said Orenstein. "Humanitarian assistance must be clearly defined so as to prevent any attempt to expand non-humanitarian military engagement. We are dismayed by reports that the Pentagon and others have recently stepped up their lobbying for increased military assistance."

"The TNI is reverting to its usual behavior, partially reinstating recently-loosened restrictions on aid workers and journalists," Miller said. "The military and government have also facilitated the entry into Aceh of Indonesian jihadists under the guise of humanitarianism. The Indonesian military perfected the tactic of sponsoring civilian militia to foment conflict and commit abuse in East Timor."

Secretary of State Colin Powell recently offered grants of spare parts for C-130 military transport planes. Indonesia has been allowed to buy these parts since 2000, but Indonesian officials repeatedly misrepresented their availability in an effort to get the U.S. to remove all restrictions on weapons sales to Indonesia.

"If Secretary Powell believes that Indonesia will heed his mild request 'not [to] use them in a way not intended,' he has already forgotten the horrid history of TNI's use of U.S. weapons in East Timor and elsewhere," said Miller. "The U.S. government must insist that Indonesia not use the C-130s or other U.S.-supplied equipment for security or repressive operations in Aceh, West Papua, or other areas where civilians are regularly targeted."

"It would be a shame if U.S. relief for tsunami-created suffering leads to further suffering in Aceh because we have strengthened the brutal Indonesian military," he added.

ETAN advocates for democracy, justice and human rights for East Timor and Indonesia. ETAN calls for an international tribunal to prosecute crimes against humanity committed in East Timor from 1975 to 1999 and for continued restrictions on U.S. military assistance to Indonesia until there is genuine reform of its security forces. (See


Congress first voted to restrict Indonesia from receiving International Military Education and Training (IMET) - which brings foreign military officers to the U.S. for training - in response to the November 12, 1991, Santa Cruz massacre in East Timor by Indonesian troops wielding U.S.-supplied M-16 rifles. All military ties with Indonesia were severed in September 1999 while the Indonesian military and its militia proxies were razing East Timor.

In November 2004, Congress extended the ban on foreign military financing (FMF) and export licenses for lethal equipment for Indonesia until certain conditions are met. A legislative exception allows FMF for the navy, provided it can meet human rights conditions. Congress also extended the ban on IMET until the State Department determines that the Indonesian armed forces and government are cooperating with the FBI's investigation into the 2002 murders of Indonesian and U.S. citizens in West Papua.

The conditions on FMF are similar to previous years, requiring presidential certification that the Indonesian government is prosecuting members of the armed forces accused of rights violations or aiding militia groups and punishing those guilty of such acts. The conditions also call for the armed forces to take steps to counter international terrorism and to implement budget transparency.

Aceh, on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra, is the site of one of Asia's longest-running wars. For three decades, the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) has fought for independence from Indonesia. On December 9, 2002, an internationally-brokered cease-fire agreement was signed between Indonesia and GAM, but it collapsed on May 19, 2003, when then Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri declared martial law in Aceh. A few hours later Indonesia launched its largest military operation since their 1975 invasion of East Timor. Aceh's status was changed to "civil emergency" one year later, but the TNI remains in charge and the reality on the ground has not changed. Hercules C-130 military transports, OV-10 Broncos, F-16 fighters, and other U.S. equipment have been used during military operations in Aceh.

The Indonesian military admits that it is continuing military operations against Aceh's pro-independence guerrillas, regardless of the current humanitarian catastrophe. Support in Aceh for independence from Indonesia is widespread and growing because of the brutality of Indonesian security forces, as well as the desire for a fair share of Aceh's vast natural resource wealth.

According to press reports, the Indonesian military has transported by ship and plane fundamentalist jihadist militia into Aceh, ostensibly to help with the relief effort. The groups, Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and Laskar Mujahidin (military wing of the Indonesian Mujahidin Council), have a history of attacking opponents of the military, threatening foreigners, and exacerbating conflicts, such as the one in the Moluccan Islands.

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