End military ties with Jakarta, now!


End military ties with Jakarta, now!

The federal government has made much of its supposed foreign policy "shift" on East Timor. Foreign minister Alexander Downer travelled to Indonesia on July 30 for discussions with Indonesian government and military figures — and postured as a grand defender of a free and fair poll on East Timor's future.

But other events demonstrate how thin Canberra's new-found "support" for East Timorese self-determination really is.

On August 2, military forces from Australia, Indonesia, New Zealand, Singapore, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea will begin joint air and sea exercises in northern Australia. Labelled "Kakadu '99", the exercises involve 4200 personnel and dozens of ships and are part of a long history of close collaboration between the Australian and Indonesian armed forces. This has included joint exercises by naval, air and land units, regular high-level exchanges and visits, and the training of Indonesian officers in Australia.

These ties have been defended and encouraged by successive federal governments as a mechanism for "influencing" the Indonesian military in a "positive" and "modern" direction. The abundant evidence of the Indonesian military's brutality has been dismissed out of hand as, in the words of Labor's foreign minister Gareth Evans at the time of the 1992 Dili massacre, "an aberration".

Following the Labor government's 1995 Security Treaty, Australia's defence relations with Indonesia became closer than with any other country, including the United States.

Since the resignation of Indonesian dictator Suharto in May 1998, the Australian government has argued that military ties should remain intact because continued cooperation will let Australia in on the ground floor of the "new" Indonesia.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The July 27 report from United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Security Council said (in UN-style understatement) that the security situation in East Timor prior to the August referendum on East Timor's relationship with Indonesia was "still inadequate". The folly of leaving the security and fairness of the poll to the Indonesian military has been well and truly shown by Indonesia's active support for, and shielding of, the anti-independence terror gangs.

Despite a name change and the formal separation of the police force and the armed forces, the Indonesian military remains, from top to bottom, as brutal and corrupt as it was under Suharto.

On July 26, the majority of members of Indonesia's election commission refused to endorse the results of the June 7 elections. The commission, made up of one representative from each registered political party, cited 120,000 unresolved electoral violations, many involving the elite's party, Golkar.

The Australian government is "cooperating" with the same elite, who pocketed billions of rupiah from corruption, supported by a military with very bloody hands, under Suharto. It is the same people, with the same goals and methods.

That the Australian government chooses to do so is not simply the result of stupidity or short-sightedness. It is because the Australian elite is complicit in, and profits from, the crimes of the Indonesian regime.

All those who are horrified by the Indonesian military's brutality and desperate attempts to hang onto power need to take urgent action to help force Canberra to end its military ties with Jakarta, now!