INDONESIA: 'East Timor syndrome' sparks spat



JAKARTA — On October 13, the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) announced the cancellation of a November 6 visit to Australian Defence Force facilities in Perth by a TNI delegation. The decision was in response to the Australian government's policy of vetting individual TNI participants for any joint military programs.

The vetting policy was announced by the Australian government in August during the public uproar that followed Canberra's resumption of cooperation with the TNI, including the notorious Kopassus special forces.

The Australian government acknowledged that "individual" TNI and Kopassus personnel had been involved in human rights violations across Indonesia and had links with militias in East Timor and Sulawesi. However, it claimed that the TNI as an institution was not responsible for the crimes.

Given that several senior TNI officers, including commander of Kopassus Major-General Sriyanto, are accused of human rights abuses, the Indonesian government and the TNI were never going to accept such a policy. Sriyanto is about to face trial for his involvement in a massacre of civilian demonstrators in 1984.

In announcing the cancellation of the Perth visit, the TNI referred to rallies being organised against the delegation, which was expected to be led by Sriyanto. This reference was a jibe against the inability of Prime Minister John Howard's government to overcome opposition in Australia to the restoration of close military relations with the TNI.

The Australian people's deep-seated suspicion of the TNI and opposition to Jakarta's repressive policies in Aceh and West Papua are a result of the almost 30 years of public campaigning by the solidarity movement in favour of the East Timor people's right to national self-determination. It has created an "East Timor syndrome" in Australia.

The Howard government's move to restore high-level military cooperation with the Indonesian government is a return to Australian foreign policy between 1975 and 1999. During that period, the Suharto dictatorship was at war with the people of East Timor and successive Australian governments — Labor and Coalition — allied themselves with Suharto in that unjust war.

Today, the Indonesian government is waging a war against the people of Aceh and West Papua. The Australian government is again allying itself with Jakarta by increasing military cooperation.

From Green Left Weekly, October 22, 2003.
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