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US trained butchers of East Timor
26 September 1999
Ed Vulliamy in New York and Antony Barnett
Indonesian military forces linked to the carnage in East Timor were trained in the United States under a covert programme sponsored by the Clinton administration that continued until last year. On top of that, Britain's Labour government has spent about $1.6m in training more than 50 members of the Indonesian military in the UK over the past two years. Human rights campaigners claim a number of these are likely to have links with those complicit in the atrocities. The US programme, codenamed "Iron Balance", was hidden from legislators and the public when Congress curbed the official schooling of Indonesia's army after a massacre in 1991. Principal among the units that continued to be trained was the Kopassus - an elite force with a bloody history - which was more rigorously trained by the US than any other Indonesian unit, according to Pentagon documents.
Kopassus was built up with American expertise despite Washington's awareness of its role in the genocide of about 200,000 people in the years after the invasion of East Timor in 1975, and in a string of massacres and disappearances. Amnesty International describes Kopassus as "responsible for some of the worst human rights violations in Indonesia's history".
The Pentagon documents - obtained by the US-based East Timor Action Network and Illinois congressman Lane Evans - detail every exercise in the covert training programme. They show the training was in military expertise that could only be used internally against civilians, such as urban guerrilla warfare, surveillance, counter-intelligence, sniper marksmanship and "psychological operations".
Specific commanders trained under the US programme have been tied to the current violence and to some of the worst massacres of the past 20 years. The US-trained commanders include the son-in-law of the dictator General Suharto, Prabowo Subianto, and his mentor, General Kiki Syahnakri - who was appointed last week as commissioner for martial law in East Timor.
The secret programme unveiled in the document became the focus for military training when above-board aid was curtailed by Congress after the Santa Cruz massacre. Congress had stepped in after up to 270 peaceful protesters - many of them schoolchildren - were murdered by Kopassus shock troops as they paraded through Dili. American sponsorship of the Indonesian regime began as a matter of cold war ideology, in the wake of defeat in Vietnam. The leftwing movement in East Timor was feared by Jakarta and seen by the US as an echo of those in southern Africa and of Salvador Allende's government in Chile. Jakarta's harassment of the Timor government and the invasion of 1975 were duly encouraged by the US. The Observer
The Guardian Weekly 23-9-1999, page 2
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