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US May Support a Terrorist-Connected Military in Name of War on Terror
19 July 2002
The Bush Administration has asked Congress to lift restrictions on military financing and training for the Indonesian military. Far from building security, the move to strengthen Indonesia's military notorious for its human rights abuses - will only increase civilian human rights violations, hamper democratic reform, and shore up Islamic fundamentalist militias. The Indonesian military has neglected to bring the military personnel responsible for the creation of militia groups in East Timor to justice. Instead, they have formed similar militias in several regions of Indonesia, notably in Aceh and West Papua. Violence continues to escalate in these regions. In November 2001, the leading independence figure in West Papua was assassinated; substantial evidence links Indonesia s elite special military forces to his murder. Last year alone, the death toll in Aceh reached 1,700, most of the victims being civilian. There is broad expectation that, under military pressure, the Indonesian government will declare a state of emergency or martial law in Aceh in the very near future, giving the military an even freer hand. Despite initial hope for reform under the Megawati government, Bush Administration officials have acknowledged that reform of the Indonesian military is dead for now.
Powerful Indonesian military and government leaders support a militant Islamic fundamentalist group called Laskar Jihad. The founding member of Laskar Jihad, Jafar Umar Thalib, spent several years studying in Pakistan and fighting alongside the mujahidin in Afghanistan in the late 1980s. According to the Center for Defense Information's (CDI) Terrorism Project, Laskar Jihad has over 10,000 fighters, making it the largest militant Muslim organization in Indonesia. CDI reports that "the attacks on the United States last fall which Jafar openly extolled and the subsequent US campaign in Afghanistan have inspired another 500 or so men to join the group since Sept. 11. Laskar Jihad has since maintained a consistently anti-American rhetoric." With the support of the Indonesian military, Laskar Jihad has been allowed to move freely around the archipelago exacerbating communal conflicts. In 2000, several thousand Laskar Jihad militants sailed to the islands of Maluku from bases in Java with no interference from Indonesian security forces despite orders from then President Wahid to prevent such a transfer. The Indonesian military has even been reported to openly train members of the Laskar Jihad.
The military has a heavy influence over Indonesia's civilian government, with many current and former human rights abusers in high level government positions. The military uses tactics like assassination to undermine efforts for peaceful reform and resolution of local conflicts. Two-thirds to three-quarters of its income comes from off-line budgeting and an extensive network of legal, semi-legal, and illegal activities that include illegal logging, prostitution rings, drugs, and extortion.
These are not the type of people Americans want to support.
The problems of the Indonesian military are political in nature and no amount of US military training will resolve them. The International Crisis Group reported in May 2002, "Better military training will not alter the fact that there is a fundamental lack of political will on the part of the Indonesian national civilian and military authorities to exert control over private armies, punish abusive soldiers, end military occupation, or proceed with long-promised reforms."
Many of us concerned about peace and human rights, including many members of Congress, worked hard to put the current military restrictions in place. This was in response to Indonesia's scorched-earth campaign in East Timor in which the Indonesian police and military and their militia-proxies terrorized the East Timorese prior to and after the 1999 referendum for independence. This campaign destroyed 75% of the country s infrastructure and displaced two-thirds of its population. These restrictions must be kept in place to function as a "carrot" for Indonesian military reform they are the best leverage we have.
Specifically, the Leahy conditions restricting International Military Education and Training (IMET) and Foreign Military Financing (FMF) programs for Indonesia must be renewed in the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. Additionally, the Department of Defense Appropriations bill should exclude the training of Indonesian security forces under the Regional Counter-terrorism Fellowship program- a newly created US military training program for Asia.
There is no guarantee that any military assistance the US provides will not be used by the Indonesian military against civilians. It would be supreme folly to allow our government s war on terrorism to increase the use of terror against other people in other parts of the world.
Just as our support of the mujahadin led to the Taliban and Al Queda, such short sighted policies in Indonesia could come back to haunt us.
Karen Orenstein and Carrie Benzschawel