INDONESIA: US to resume military ties

Issue 

James Balowski, Jakarta

In the boldest statement on the subject to date, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has signalled that the US is ready to restore full military training ties with the Indonesian military (TNI). But the announcement coincides with new evidence of the TNI's involvement in the murder of two US nationals in 2002 and what is being dubbed the "biggest timber heist ever".

On February 17, Rice told reporters that she was in the "final stages" of consultations with the US Congress on certifying Indonesia as eligible to benefit from the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program. "I think it's a good time to do that", she said, citing what she called Jakarta's "successful" presidential election last year and cooperation in the investigation of the 2002 murders.

Jakarta was quick to endorse Rice's comments. Foreign affairs spokesperson Marty Natalegawa said on February 18 that the program would serve as a "correction for an anomaly" that had hindered relations between the two countries.

The Bush administration argues that renewing military ties with the world's most-populous Muslim country is crucial to prosecuting its "war on terror". This intensified following the devastating December 26 tsunami.

Washington argued that had it maintained links, coordination between US troops and the TNI during relief operations would have "made it possible to respond much more quickly and effectively".

Washington also parroted Jakarta's lie that the embargo on spare parts for US-built Hercules transport planes hindered aid efforts — Jakarta has been allowed to buy the parts under US law since 2002. It also regurgitates Indonesia's claim that the TNI is "trying to reform" and that reestablishing ties will assist in developing a more democratic and professional military.

If anything however, the TNI's handling of relief operations in Aceh — restricting the movement of foreign aid workers, hoarding and reselling humanitarian aid and harassing local aid groups — demonstrated that it remains the corrupt and abusive institution it has always been.

Congress first voted to restrict Indonesia from the IMET program following the Dili massacre in 1991. All military ties were severed in September 1999 when the TNI and its militia proxies razed East Timor.

The most sensitive issue however, remains the murder of two US school teachers and an Indonesian national near the Freeport Gold and Copper mine in West Papua in August 2002. Indonesian police and rights groups concluded that the TNI was behind the attack although an investigation by the FBI — which has been dismissed as a "white-wash" — later exonerated the TNI blaming instead rogue elements of the armed separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM). In June 2004 the US indicted alleged OPM member Anthonius Wamang for the murders.

In the latest revelations, the West Papua-based Institute for Human Rights Studies and Advocacy (ELSHAM) says it has uncovered new evidence linking the TNI to the attack. In a February 17 press statement, ELSHAM said that IMET should not be released until the FBI "explores well-documented ties between the TNI and Wamang as well as a number of yet-to-be indicted coconspirators".

ELSHAM has established that Wamang travelled to Jakarta in January 2002 at the TNI's expense. Wamang had no prior combat training and ELSHAM believes it was provided at this time. Wamang reportedly claims the ambush was planned during the trip.

In an interview with the ABC in August 2004, Wamang admitted to purchasing ammunition from the TNI. ELSHAM says it now has detailed evidence on two long-term TNI collaborators who helped procure the weapons. One of the two flew to Jakarta and stayed at the home of a serving TNI officer, Colonel Sugiono. The weapons were purchased through TNI agents and Sugiono arranged and paid for the individual's return to Papua. The rifles were not forwarded immediately but stored at the Cikini police station in Jakarta.

ELSHAM says that the TNI's most probable motive was to ensure continued "security payments" from Freeport. According to a communication by Freeport with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the company paid the TNI US$5.6 million in 2002. ELSHAM says Freeport made these payments in the form of direct monthly transfers into the account of the West Papua military commander. Payments were discontinued a month before the attack.

These allegations are not new. In 1991, Emmy Hafild, from the Indonesian environmental NGO Walhi, claimed that the local military commander boasted to her that Freeport directly supported military operations and helped pay military salaries.

In an article posted by Laksamana.net on September 2, 2002, Denise Leith, author of The Politics of Power: Freeport in Suharto's Indonesia, argued that for years Freeport was willing to tolerate the TNI's demands for money, but on July 26 that year, US Congress passed the Corporate Fraud Act requiring US companies to file certifications by August 14 declaring that their financial accounts were true and accurate. Leith suggests that it changed its corporate policy and the attack was staged to force Freeport to recommence payments.

If this isn't enough, a new report alleges that the TNI is involved in a massive illegal logging racket in West Papua.

The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and its Indonesian partner Telapak say that 300,000 cubic metres of wood is being smuggled out of Papua every month to feed China's timber processing industry.

"It's probably the largest smuggling case that we've come across in our time of research on illegal logging in Indonesia", the groups said at a February 17 press conference. "This illegal trade is threatening the last large tract of pristine forests in the whole Asia-Pacific region".

They alleged it would not be possible without the participation of the TNI and police at every stage. "The army, police and navy are all involved but it is mainly the navy", said Yayat Afianto of Telapak, "It is not the institutions but dozens of bad apples, including generals".

The government says combatting illegal logging is one of its top priorities but freely admits to TNI involvement. The coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, Widodo AS, told the February 19 Jakarta Post "It is organised crime and it involves many officials" adding it be difficult to arrest and prosecute military or government officials because "they are very tricky".

Even before the latest information was made public, Forestry Minister H. MS Kaban had revealed that illegal logging was costing the state 60 trillion rupiah annually. To put this in perspective, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have successfully pressured the government to scale back the 59 million rupiah it spends on fuel subsidies. The resulting cuts will cause widespread hardship and are expected to trigger widespread public anger and protest.

From Green Left Weekly, March 2, 2005.

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