Washington. A key United States senator voiced regret Thursday at the resumption of ties with Indonesian special forces and said the unit must expel officers linked to abuses before there could be greater cooperation.
Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the author of the law that bans US support to foreign militaries that violate human rights, said Indonesia’s Kopassus “remains unrepentant, essentially unreformed and unaccountable.”
“I deeply regret that before starting down the road of re-engagement, our country did not obtain and Kopassus did not accept the necessary reforms we have long sought,” said Leahy, a member of President Barack Obama’s Democratic Party.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, visiting Jakarta on Thursday, announced that the United States would resume ties with Kopassus, an elite unit involved in Indonesia’s major past operations including the occupation of East Timor.
The Obama administration has been seeking to build relations with Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, which has rapidly transformed in the past decade into a civilian-led democracy.
But Gates said relations with Kopassus would be limited at first and that the United States would only expand cooperation if the unit, and the Indonesian military as a whole, undertake reforms.
“As far as I am concerned, that includes suspending any Kopassus officers who have been credibly linked to abuses, and pledging to cooperate in prosecutions of past and future crimes,” Leahy said.
Leahy, who heads the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that authorizes funding for foreign operations, was relieved that Gates did not announce full-fledged cooperation.
“A conditional toe in the water is wiser at this stage than diving in,” Leahy said.
“The United States and Indonesia share important interests, and I have sought a way forward that is consistent with our interests and our values. I hope that will become possible,” he said.
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said the administration had discussed the Kopassus decision with US lawmakers and explained that Indonesia has made strides in human rights.
“That said, we’re going in with our eyes open,” Crowley said. “Kopassus has a dark past. We recognize that. We’re going to be insisting that Indonesia live up to its stated commitments.”
“It’s not a slippery slope,” Crowley said. “We think that this engagement can in fact help to further improve the performance of the Indonesian military.”