Military Ties With Indonesia Mulled
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WASHINGTON (AP) _ Indonesia’s defense minister says he wants an improved relationship with the Pentagon but no American troops to help counter international terror in his Asian nation.
Minister Matori Abdul Djalil met at the Pentagon on Monday with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld to try to rebuild military relations shattered by the Indonesian Army’s implication in human rights abuses in breakaway East Timor in 1999.
Asked by reporters whether he had also asked Rumsfeld for help from American troops in battling terrorism, Matori said: ``No, because that is not our foreign policy.
``And we remain confident in the ability of our national police and the military to deal with these threats,″ he said.
Six months ago, Matori said elements linked with Saudi-born fugitive Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terror network had begun operations in Indonesia. He pledged an all-out fight against them. U.S. officials subsequently have expressed misgivings about a lack of progress.
The Pentagon has been trying to craft a program to improve Indonesian counterterror skills without violating congressional limits on military contacts after the army’s conduct in East Timor. Hundreds were killed and much of the island was devastated after East Timorese voted in 1999 to break the island’s ties with Indonesia.
Critics allege the carnage was masterminded by sections of the Indonesian military. The United States suspended military training and weapons sales to Jakarta in response.
Matori said his government has begun to reform the military, has put suspected rights abusers on trial and has established ``the principle of civilian supremacy over the military in Indonesia.″
At a news conference with Matori, Rumsfeld said he hoped those actions would persuade Congress to restore some contacts.
The administration has been ``interested in finding ways to work with the Congress to re-establish the kind of military-to-military relations which we believe are appropriate,″ Rumsfeld said. He did not elaborate on what those might be.
``We are of the view that it’s time for them to be adjusted substantially,″ he said.
U.S. legislation bars normalization until the army demonstrates a commitment to greater civilian control and accountability.
``Our military-to-military relations still suffer from the military embargo, ... and I’m here to rectify that situation,‴ Matori said. ``I’m here to try to present a case to normalize military-to-military relations.″
Before 1999, Indonesia depended on Washington for many of its weapons. Its military has complained that suspension of ties with the United States left many of its F-16 jets grounded by lack of spare parts.
Matori said the government is ``determined to build a professional military.″
A week after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri visited President Bush in the White House, and they agreed to resume some contacts and regular meetings between the U.S. and Indonesian military, partly to promote an overhaul of the Indonesian military.
Indonesian and U.S. defense officials held two days of talks last month. Such sessions are scheduled to continue.
Although Rumsfeld didn’t say what level of resumed contacts he thought appropriate, a number of events between the two countries are in the works:
_Congress has approved spending $400,000 this year to educate Indonesian civilians on defense matters.
_The State Department has asked Congress for $16 million in extra money this year for Indonesia, with half to go toward training a policed counterterror unit and the rest to train and equip a military force to control problems within Indonesia that police are unable to control.
_The Defense Department is asking for $17.9 million additional to establish a regional counterterror program among several Asian nations. It has not decided how the money would be allocated, but Indonesia is being considered for a portion, U.S. defense officials said.
In March, a court in Jakarta began hearing trials of 18 senior Indonesian officials and high-ranking officers charged with crimes against humanity in East Timor.
On the Net: State Department’s Indonesia page: http://www.state.gov/p/eap/ci/id/
U.S. Pacific Command’s report on East Timor independence, U.S. participation: http://www.pacom.mil/pages/etimorhistory.html