INDONESIA: Australia, US renew military ties with killing machine

March 27, 2002



Almost every day, details of the murder of Acehnese civilians by Indonesian military forces are reported by democratic and human rights organisations and international news agencies. At least 300 killings have been reported since January. More than 10,000 Acehnese have been killed in the last two decades.

In a typical news report on March 13, Agence France-Presse (AFP) related the Indonesian Armed Forces' (TNI) claims that two Acehnese died in an accidental explosion and one unarmed rebel was shot down, before reporting: "A GAM [the Free Aceh movement] spokesman, Ishak Daud, denied that the three victims were rebels. 'We condemn the killings of civilians who have nothing to do with GAM,' he said."

The report goes on to explain that: the tortured bodies of a local Muslim leader and another civilian were found on March 12 in east Aceh; three bodies with gunshot wounds were found in north Aceh on the same day; rebels had been killed in two west Aceh locations on March 11 and March 12; three "bullet-riddled" bodies were found in two west Aceh locations on March 11; and a civilian was shot dead by an unidentified person in Bireuen district on March 10.

The Indonesian and Acehnese human rights organisations which document the violence are themselves harassed by the Indonesian military. On March 14 AFP reported that three members of Solidarity for Victims of Human Rights Abuses were rounded up on March 12, according to Rufriadi, coordinator of the local legal aid institute. "We are checking with police about their whereabouts. We are worried about them being victims of summary execution," Rufriadi told the AFP.

Spokespeople for the Acehnese Peoples Democratic Resistance Front (FPDRA) told Green Left Weekly that mobile brigade forces have been visiting the area around their offices in a show of intimidation.

TNI in Papua

The Indonesian military has also been implicated in the killing of Papuan independence leader Theys Eluay. Eluay was kidnapped and murdered after attending a dinner at the Kopassus military command in November. A statement by Philip Erary, one of the investigating team into the murder, says that evidence points to "collective involvement" of a "particular institution" which may have "initiated the idea" as well as planned and executed it.

In a clear signal as to which "institution" he means, Erary called for the military police to hold a formal inquiry, arguing that witnesses felt they could speak more freely to them than to the police. The KOMAPS newspaper has also reported that one witness saw Theys' driver Aristotles Masoka being assaulted in a room at Tribuana Kopassus military headquarters, then put in a vehicle and driven away. Masoka has still not been located.

Erary also stated that witnesses had received the kind of threats that "indicate that the perpetrators were not ordinary folk". Colonel Sutarna, a military police commander, rejected the call for an inquiry, stating that the armed forces only carried out what it's headquarters ordered.

Hill's skewed vision

Australian defence minister Robert Hill has a different perspective on TNI. On March 7, after announcing that TNI officers would resume training in Australian defence colleges, he told the ABC: "Indonesia knows the values that we bring into the relationship and which we regard as important and adherence to the international standards of human rights are clearly part of those values.

"Indonesian leaders are saying to me that they recognise that also and are seeking to indoctrinate the troops and others as to the importance of these values as well. I regard that as positive. I certainly see enough to encourage this process of rebuilding the defence relationship, which I think, as I said, will be of benefit to both of us."

He added, "[The Australian government] might be able to assist [the Indonesian military] in developing counter-terrorist capabilities as well, at least in the command and control area where we really do have very sophisticated processes".

The US armed forces also want to see a resumption of military ties with Jakarta, after they were downgraded substantially in the wake of the TNI's 1999 rampage in East Timor. In hearings before a US congressional committee on February 27, armed forces boss Admiral Blair called for an end to restrictions on military cooperation with Indonesia.

Blair stated bluntly that the restrictions in cooperation "obstructed the US war on terror". According to a Pentagon official quoted by the March 5 Los Angeles Times, the US administration is seeking a 27% funding increase for a federal program bolstering non-US militaries. Money, goods and US military training would go to Indonesia, as well as Nepal, Jordan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

Megawati and human rights

Megawati Sukarnoputri's own blunt statements at a December 30 military parade belie Hill's positive view of her government's attitude to human rights. After a token reference to obeying the law, she advised officers and soldiers not to worry about human rights when carrying out their duties — especially when suppressing separatists.

Many generals are refusing to appear before the government-appointed National Human Rights Commission (Komnas-HAS), which is investigating 1998 military shootings of students. Megawati has not ordered them to appear. Even the commission is flawed. The US-based Human Rights Watch has released a report exposing its lack of action on known human rights violations in Aceh.

The 44-page report focuses on the killings of thirty men and a two-year-old child in August 2001 in Julok, east Aceh. The victims — all ethnic Acehnese — were lined up and executed by a group of armed men in camouflage uniforms. The Indonesian army and police accused GAM of responsibility. GAM blames members of the Indonesian security forces.

The new report includes excerpts from an internal report of a Komnas-HAS visit to east Aceh two weeks later. The report includes transcripts of taped interviews between two commissioners and eyewitnesses to the killings.

Virtually all witnesses asserted that the Indonesian army was responsible, although they could not name individual perpetrators. The commissioners, however, failed to follow up important leads. The two senior commissioners allowed military officers to accompany them on some interviews, a clear inhibition to free discussion. After their return to Jakarta, the commissioners sat on their findings for five months. Only on January 8, 2002 did the comission agree to set up a formal inquiry, but more than two months later, no progress is evident.

From Green Left Weekly, March 27, 2002.
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