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US Eases Curbs on Ties with Indonesian Military

The Bush administration has taken another step toward resuming full military to military relations with Indonesia. The decision was announced a day after a White House visit by Indonesian President Suslio Bambang Yudhoyono.

The United States restricted military aid to Indonesia more than a decade ago because of human rights concerns, and the Congress cut it off altogether in 1999 to protest the Indonesian army role in militia violence in East Timor.

But the relationship is being gradually restored amid growing anti-terrorism cooperation between the two governments, and Indonesian pledges, reiterated by President Yudhoyono to President Bush at the White House Wednesday, to reform the military.

The latest step was announced by State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher a day after the White House meeting. He said the administration is lifting a ban on direct sales of non-lethal military equipment by the Pentagon to the Indonesian military.

The phased restoration of military links began in January when the United States lifted a ban on sales of military spare parts for U.S.-made C-130 transport planes Indonesia was using for tsunami relief.

A month later, the administration renewed a U.S. training program for Indonesian military personnel, and recently also authorized regular commercial sales of non-lethal military hardware and services.

Spokesman Boucher said the U.S. training and military sales are targeted both to promote the reform of the Indonesian armed forces and advance key security objectives such as humanitarian relief, counter-terrorism and maritime security.

He said the United States is not extending loans or grants to finance Indonesian defense purchases, and he made clear that a broader military relationship depends on further action on human rights.

"We look forward to full normalization of military relations as the President said yesterday," he said. "But that will depend on continued counter-terrorism cooperation, prosecution and punishment of members of the armed forces who have been credibly alleged to have committed gross violations of human rights, accountability for human rights abuses committed in East Timor and elsewhere, and transparency in military financing. So this is a step along the road that we hope to be able to go down, as Indonesia makes these further changes in reform of the military."

In addition to pushing for action on alleged atrocities in East Timor, the United States has sought the prosecution of those behind the killing of two American school teachers three years ago in the province of West Papua.

In advance of the White House meeting, Indonesian human rights activists said in an open letter to President Bush that abuses by the Indonesian military continued in West Papua and Aceh, where separatists are fighting the government, and that officers behind East Timor killings had not been punished.

In another development, the State Department said Thursday the U.S. embassy in Jakarta, the consulate in Surabaya, and all other U.S. government offices in Indonesia had been closed until further notice because of what was termed a specific security threat.

Mr. Boucher would give no details of the threat, though the New York Times reported from Jakarta that the closure followed the posting on an Islamic website of a diagram of the U.S. embassy and supposed details of how to attack the facility.

The spokesman said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice discussed the pending closure of the U.S. facilities Wednesday with President Yudhoyono and his delegation, and that they promised every possible support from the Indonesian government in dealing with the matter.

Mr. Boucher noted that the current State Department travel warning for Indonesia says the terrorist threat in the country remains high, and that U.S. citizens are advised to avoid all non-essential travel there.