US and Indonesia May Restore Military Link
17 January 2005
The United States and Indonesia are seeking to use their cooperation in dealing with the tsunami crisis as a springboard to restore closer military ties after a decade of limited contact because of American concern over human rights abuses by the Indonesian Army, senior defense officials from both countries said Sunday.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, visiting here on a trip to three countries hit hard by the tsunami last month, said Congressional restrictions on American training and arms sales should be re-evaluated in light of what the Indonesian military is doing to refashion itself into a more professional and accountable force.
"If we're interested in military reform here," Mr. Wolfowitz told reporters, "I think we need to reconsider a bit where we are."
Earlier in the day, Mr. Wolfowitz, who was the American ambassador here from 1986 to 1989, in the Reagan administration, said, "Cutting off contact with Indonesian officers only makes the problem worse."
Military assistance to Indonesia was halted in 1992 in response to the killing of demonstrators in East Timor by Indonesian forces. After the Sept. 11 attacks, some counterterrorism training for Indonesian forces resumed. Last week, restrictions were relaxed to allow the sale of spare parts for Indonesia's aging fleet of C-130 military cargo planes so they could be used to deliver aid. Only 8 of Indonesia's 25 C-130's were in condition to be used, American officials said.
Any further changes would require congressional approval.
Even proponents of the restrictions - including those who have been critical of the army for its continuing rights abuses in places like Aceh Province, the site of worst devastation from the tsunami - acknowledge that the best hope for developing an army whose conduct fits a democracy is to send officers for training in the United States.
Mr. Wolfowitz pointed out on Sunday that the new Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, is a former general who trained at the Army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
He has made clear that in restoring assistance, the United States would not excuse past abuses and would press the Indonesian military to make changes to prevent such abuses. Any renewed assistance would have to be closely monitored, proponents of changes said.
Adm. Thomas B. Fargo, the head of the Pacific Command, said in an interview that the Indonesian military had already taken several steps - from no longer allowing officers to hold seats in Parliament, to centralizing control over special forces - and said he favored restoring full military ties.
Admiral Fargo is seeking Pentagon approval to expand a series of conferences his command has sponsored with Indonesian military officers on civil-military relations, democratic institutions and other nonlethal training, a spokesman said.
The Indonesian defense minister, Juwono Sudarsono, said Sunday at a news conference with Mr. Wolfowitz that he was trying to make needed changes in the 350,000-member military despite a limited budget.
Mr. Sudarsono sought to remove one possible irritant in relations between the United States and Indonesia by pulling back from his government's announcement last week that foreign militaries assisting the relief operations would have to leave by March 26, the three-month anniversary of the tsunami.
The comments had roiled some in Congress, who had viewed the remarks as an ungrateful reply to a surge of emergency American relief aid, particularly from Navy helicopters flying into remote coastal areas from the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and other ships off the western coast of Sumatra.
Mr. Sudarsono said Sunday that March 26 was not a deadline for foreign militaries, but rather the date by which the Indonesian government would try to improve and accelerate its ability to oversee all relief efforts. "Foreign military operations providing relief and rehabilitation will be allowed to continue, albeit on a reduced scale," he said.
Here in Indonesia, Mr. Sudarsono said it was difficult to bolster the military's public image, especially in places like Aceh Province, which had the greatest number of deaths from the tsunami and where a separatist rebellion has simmered for decades. He said he had placed a full-page advertisement in Indonesian newspapers to thank the military for its efforts in helping tsunami victims.
He also appealed to Washington to provide more training for officers, particularly in management and on the technical aspects of defense, and Mr. Wolfowitz responded that such training made sense for a military in a democracy.
Officials from both the United States and Indonesia said that the Indonesian military's handling of the crisis in Aceh could influence members of Congress on the issue of restrictions. But perhaps more important, it might also open the door to a settlement of the long-simmering strife there, American officials said.
"If the military proves itself in Aceh, and shows they can do something other than kill people there, it could bring about a settlement," said one American military official who had studied the tensions there but who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not have an official policy making position.
Before the tsunami, Aceh was mostly off limits to foreigners, including aid workers. Martial law was declared in the province in May 2003 and relaxed to a state of "civil emergency" last year, as some 40,000 troops weakened the rebels.
Human rights groups have accused the Indonesian military of severe abuses of civilians.
Mr. Wolfowitz will wrap up his inspection of the tsunami-stricken region with a visit to Sri Lanka on Monday to review the damage there as well as American military relief operations. He visited Thailand earlier in the weekend.