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US to Restore Military Ties with Indonesia - 2002-06-03

The Bush Administration says it wants to restore partial military ties between the United States and Indonesia severed in 1999 after Indonesian-backed militias destroyed much of East Timor during its vote for independence. The idea of renewing military cooperation is raising concern among human rights groups and some U.S. lawmakers.

Assistant Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says the United States needs to help the world's most populous Muslim nation reform its military, so that it can become a model for other Islamic nations. He made the remarks during an Asian Security Conference in Singapore, which ended Sunday.

Mr. Wolfowitz insists that the success of Indonesia's experiment with democracy depends heavily on its military's ability to defend against Islamic extremism. But he said that a full resumption of military ties with the United States would not be possible until Indonesia met specific requirements. "It is not unconditional," he said. "Of the conditions, it's precisely going to relate to making sure that a useful, humanitarian kind of activity and anti-communal violence in Sulewesi does not get translated into abusive counter-insurgency activity somewhere else."

Since the September 11 attacks in the United States, senior Bush Administration officials have suggested that engaging the Indonesian military is the best way to reform an institution with a long history of human rights violations and corruption.

But human rights activists and several members of U.S. Congress have challenged that view saying the United States should not reestablish ties until the Indonesian military commanders who orchestrated the atrocities committed in East Timor are fully brought to justice.

Shortly after the rampage three years ago, Congress banned weapon sales to Jakarta and prevented Indonesian officers from attending U.S. military schools. The ban is still in effect.

The chairman of the Jakarta-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, Jusuf Wanandi, agrees the Indonesian military has not done enough to assure the public that it has conducted effective reforms. "They have to get more discipline into their own body," he said. "There are wild elements, which are involved in regional conflicts such as in the Moluccas. And that is the most worrying point."

With Congress unlikely to lift its ban, the Bush Administration is concentrating on exchanges not governed by the restrictions. The administration has asked Congress to approve funding for the FBI to train a civilian-led counter-terrorism unit and money to train Indonesian soldiers to better respond to communal unrest.