Thursday’s announcement of revived defense ties between the US military and Indonesia’s special forces could prove premature as critics denounced the conditions of the agreement.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the lifting of the training ban on Kopassus in Jakarta on Thursday, but stressed it was contingent on key reforms within the military.
In preparation for lifting the ban, Defense Department officials said they asked the Indonesian government in recent months to remove “less than a dozen” members of Kopassus who had been convicted of previous human rights abuses but were still part of the unit
Among those who recently left was Lt. Col. Tri Hartomo, who was convicted by an Indonesian military court in 2003 and served time in prison for abuse leading to the death of a Papuan activist, Theys Eluay.
Defense Department officials said that Colonel Hartomo was still a member of the Indonesian military.
Lt. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin, who was implicated in a massacre in East Timor while he served in Kopassus, was appointed deputy defense minister in January, and remains there.
Defense Department officials said the distinction for them was that General Sjamsoeddin was only implicated, not convicted.
US Senator Patrick Leahy, who authored the legislation prohibiting US support for foreign militaries that violate human rights, said on Friday that the conditions must be thoroughly fulfilled.
“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,” he said.
Leahy, who heads the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that authorizes funding for foreign operations, said he was relieved that Gates did not announce full-fledged cooperation.
“A conditional toe in the water is wiser at this stage than diving in,” he said.
But Armed Forces (TNI) Chief Gen. Djoko Santoso said Kopassus had already sanctioned personnel involved in questionable conduct, but stopped short of saying whether they had been dismissed.
“As far as the TNI is concerned, the issue of past human rights violations is over,” Djoko said. “The officers in question have all undergone due legal process as required by Indonesian law.”
Djoko declined to say if that meant Indonesia had fulfilled the requirements laid down by the United States.
Legislators at the Indonesian House of Representatives also criticized the US for “meddling.”
Mahfud Siddiq, chairman of House Commission I, overseeing defense and foreign affairs, said the United States needed Indonesia as a strategic partner in the region, therefore it should base the relationship on fairness and cooperation.
“Any requirement for a defense agreement must be based on regional interests and shouldn’t see one country meddling in the internal affairs of another, especially in past cases,” said Mahfud, of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).
“And besides, the US military is hardly free from allegations of war crimes and rights violations itself.”
Ramadhan Pohan, of the ruling Democratic Party, also blasted the US demand, saying it should not “play around with threats” and adding that it had no authority to order Indonesia about.
“The government must make a clear statement that Indonesia cannot be dictated to by the US government or anyone else,” he said.
“If they want to cooperate with us, then let’s do it. But if they want to intervene, then no way.”