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US: Indonesia Improving on Rights, Fighting Terrorism - 2002-01-29

The U.S. military commander in the Pacific says it would be easier to fight terrorism in Southeast Asia if the United States had normal military ties with Indonesia. Admiral Dennis Blair says there are some limited ways the United States can work with the Indonesian military in fighting terrorism, but that it would be better if the two countries had normal military ties.

Under what is called the Lay amendment, the United States banned most military assistance to Indonesia in 1999. That came after pro-Jakarta militias, allegedly backed by the Indonesian army, destroyed most of East Timor when the territory voted for independence from Indonesia. In a news conference in Singapore Tuesday, Admiral Blair said that he believed the Indonesian military was improving on its human rights performance, despite reports of new atrocities in the separatist provinces of Aceh and Papua. He also said the two countries can share intelligence on suspect groups and discuss common military issues. Harold Crouch from the International Crisis Group says he thinks Indonesia would like to have military aid restored, but that it is unlikely to happen soon. "If the Indonesians could meet the requirements, the conditions of the Lay amendment, one of them is that the military personnel involved in East Timor should be put on trial. Now I don't think Indonesia is capable of meeting that requirement and the American Congress is not likely to withdraw the Lay amendment until that requirement is met," he said. Indonesia has come under pressure from its neighbors to crack down on Muslim militants suspected of having ties to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network. Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines have recently arrested dozens of people suspected of having links to al-Qaida, and want Indonesia to cooperate with efforts to stop international terrorism. Mr. Crouch says he thinks Indonesia is willing to cooperate with international efforts to thwart terrorism. "If you're talking about just terrorism, I would expect Indonesia would be quite happy to cooperate with America. And I think the Indonesian attitude all along is that it is ready to cooperate, but where it has differed earlier was on the question of bombing Afghanistan," he said. Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country and the vast majority of Indonesians practice a tolerant form of Islam. However, many Indonesians opposed the U.S.-led bombing of Afghanistan.