WASHINGTON (AP) — Indonesia’s army allegedly committed abuses when it was commanded by the retired general newly appointed as defense minister but he was not personally implicated, a U.S. official said Tuesday.
Indonesia’s new president unveiled his Cabinet this week, and rights activists have criticized the appointment of Ryamizard Ryacudu, a former army chief who led a large-scale military operation against separatist rebels in Aceh province in 2003.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington the U.S. is not aware “of any allegation that ties the defense minister explicitly to a specific human rights violation.” She said it was something that the U.S. tracks and watches closely.
She said Indonesia’s military has reformed significantly as Indonesia has transitioned to democracy in the past 16 years, and the U.S. expects the reform trend to continue.
The United States severed military ties with Indonesia for several years after a bloody military crackdown in the now-independent territory of East Timor in 1999 but has gradually restored them. U.S. assistance to Indonesia’s notorious special forces was resumed in 2010.
Washington will be looking for relations to improve further with the Southeast Asian nation under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who was sworn in last week amid high hopes of progressive leadership after he defeated another former general, Prabowo Subianto, in a July presidential election.
Jokowi took the unprecedented step of asking the country’s anti-corruption commission to vet Cabinet candidates, but he’s been criticized for naming Ryacudu, who has a reputation as an ultra-nationalist.
“He is a relic of the past with a history of excusing rights violations by soldiers, threatening human rights critics, and asserting the military’s right to meddle in civilian affairs,” John Miller of the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network said in a statement after the Cabinet was named Sunday.