Thursday, January 27, 2005


The news out of Indonesia and Washington continues to be grim. On a day that the Washington Post ran an insightful piece on the climate of fear in Aceh province engendered by Indonesia's corrupt and brutal army, our newly installed Secretary of State was preparing to ask Congress to grant to Indonesia's rulers the full normalization of military ties they have sought for the last 10 years.

The State Department is telling human rights groups that it will recommend the release of $600,000 in International Military Education and Training Funds (IMET) that Congress blocked last year, pending a ruling that the Indonesian government and its armed forces are cooperating with the FBI's investigation into the killing of two Americans in Timika, West Papua, on August 31, 2002. One source told me that the "formal certification for IMET" was actually placed on Condoleezza Rice's desk today. Her ruling is expected anytime.

The Post's reporting underscores why normalization is such a bad idea. The article, by the excellent Alan Sipress, reports that the dazed victims of the tsunami in Aceh are literally begging for foreign military forces to stay because they fear that, left alone, the Indonesian military (known as the TNI) will revert back to their scorched-earth campaign to eradicate the independence movement and terrorize the local population.
In more than two dozen interviews in Aceh, Indonesia's westernmost province, residents unanimously said that foreign forces should remain for at least several years. Acehnese, from homeless rice farmers to professors and local officials, said the troops should help with reconstruction and serve as a check on Indonesian security forces, widely feared in the province because of their heavy-handed campaign against separatist rebels, known as the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). The rebels have been fighting for autonomy for decades....The government's battle with (GAM) has left the local population cowed, fearing interrogation, detention or even summary execution by one side or the other for voicing offending views.
Sipress interviewed Ali, "a scruffy Acehnese truck driver turned tsunami refugee."
As Ali and his wife shared their impatience over Indonesian relief efforts, they kept watch through the opening of the tent, lowering their voices whenever Indonesian army trucks, crowded with soldiers in green camouflage uniforms cradling automatic rifles, rumbled past. U.S. Navy Sea Hawk helicopters roared overhead every few minutes, heading down the west coast to deliver aid. "If it's possible, the foreign troops should stay here 50 years," Ali continued, almost pleading. He and other refugees said they feared being identified by the army and requested that they not be photographed or further identified. "If the international troops don't stay here for a long time, there will be corruption, and none of the assistance will get into our hands."
Unfortunately, reporting of this kind may be about to end. According to a report distributed today by Reporters Without Borders, there are "signs of growing Indonesian army intolerance towards the foreign news media, in which at least five journalists have been briefly detained or asked to leave Aceh and new rules have restricted press work."

The organization is also asking Indonesian authorities to "explain why they expelled US freelance journalist William Nessen from Jakarta on 24 January, a day after arresting him as he left Aceh province. The authorities have so far just said he violated a territorial ban imposed on him in August 2003 after his first arrest in Aceh. At that time, he was sentenced to 40 days in prison for violating the immigration laws and was banned from Indonesia for a year. But that ban expired in August 2004." The report also stated:

A photojournalist and regular contributor to The San Francisco Chronicle and The Sydney Morning Herald, Nessen is the only foreign reporter to have covered the Indonesian army’s May 2003 offensive against the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan
Aceh Merdeka or GAM) from the rebel side. Nessen told Reporters Without Borders he entered Indonesia and Aceh legally on 2 January, and was arrested by immigration officials as he left Aceh on 23 January, apparently at the request of military intelligence. He was interrogated about his activities in Aceh and, before he was expelled, the order banning him from Indonesian territory was extended to August 2005.

Previously, on 7 January, Martin Chulov and Renee Nowytager of The Australian were threatened and asked to leave the area by Indonesian soldiers who had just come under fire from GAM rebels. "Your duty is to observe the disaster and not the war between the army and the GAM," an officer told them.

Michael Lev, a reporter with the Chicago Tribune, and his Indonesian fixer, Handewi Pramesti, were arrested on 29 December by soldiers in Meulaboh (Aceh) and held for 28 hours.

(The information from Reporters Without Borders was kindly forwarded to me by fellow blogger Doug Ireland, who you can find at

And now, back to Condi, that IMET money and the Timika murders.

Privately, Rice has already told Congress she wants the IMET money to flow again. Earlier this week, she responded in writing to several questions on Indonesia posed by Senator Joe Biden, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (too bad these questions weren't asked in the public session last week). Biden made clear that he was skeptical about John Ashcroft's announcement last year that a Papuan suspect has been indicted in the Timika case. "In the meantime," he wrote, "the suspect remains at large, well documented ties between him and the army (TNI) remain unexplored in official accounts of the case, and there appears to be no effort under way to advance the investigation." He asked Rice if she believed that the FBI had exonerated the TNI and how she planned to persuade Indonesia to cooperate more in the case.

Here's what Rice said: "The arrest and prosecution of Anthonius Wamang, who was indicted by the FBI (sic: it was a grand jury) for the murder of two American citizens, is one of our top priorities.Although the investigation is not complete, the FBI has uncovered no evidence indicating TNI involvement in the Timika murders. We know President Yudhoyono understands the importance of this matter to the United States and trust that the Government of Indonesia will take the appropriate actions to achieve justice in this case."

Biden then asked her if she would still support IMET "if If the case remains stalled-with no suspect in jail, no investigation actively probing alleged ties to TNI, no plans for any movement in the future."

Rice's response was predictable: "IMET for Indonesia is in the US interest," she said. By training Indonesian officers, the United States will "strengthen the professionalism of military officers, especially with respect to the norms of democratic civil-military relations such as transparency, civilian supremacy, public accountability, and respect for human rights."

Patsy Spier, who lost her husband in the Timika attack and was herself seriously wounded, sent out an e-mail today stating her disagreement with Rice's assessment of Indonesia's desire to "achieve justice" in the case. Six and a half months after Ashcroft identified Wamang as the chief suspect, said Spier, Wamang "has not been apprehended, and the Indonesian authorities have not issued an indictment from Indonesia for his arrest."

Spier said she was personally informed by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage last February that, for the United States, cooperation meant seeing the case through to "its exhaustion." In other words, said Spier, "This is an ongoing case, which means that this case is not exhausted."

In another development in the case, Spier said that the Indonesian police - who first made the charge that the army may have been involved in the attack - has responded to repeated invitations by the FBI to come to Washington to study the FBI's evidence in the case. This is the first communication between US and Indonesian authorities on the case in six months. Spier concluded:

What message will the USG be sending to this new Indonesian government if we certify those symbolic funds when the man who is indicted by a US grand jury has not been apprehended, the INP have not issued an Indonesian indictment for his arrest, the other participants of the ambush have not been indicted in this ongoing case, and the INP are just now communicating with our FBI after seven month?

Sadly, the message will be that Bush's ideology of freedom and democracy only applies to our enemies, not our friends. Indonesia has been very very good for American corporations and arms merchants over the years, and Bush and Condi are not about to ruin a good thing.