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US Lawmakers Make Appeal to End Aceh Conflict - 2003-06-26

Forty-five members of the U.S. House of Representatives have appealed to Secretary of State Colin Powell to work for the end of hostilities in Indonesia's Aceh province.

In their letter, dated June 20 but made public Thursday, the lawmakers note reports of human rights abuses by Indonesian troops, including executions, torture and arbitrary detention.

They also take note of "an emerging crackdown" on non-governmental organizations in Aceh engaged in peaceful human rights and other advocacy.

The lawmakers urge Secretary Powell to ask the government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri to end the use of U.S. military equipment reported to have been used in the current military operation against the separatist rebels in Aceh.

While this equipment was supplied to Indonesia before a 1991 ban on lethal military aid to Indonesia, the lawmakers say any use of it now will only serve to alienate the people of Aceh toward the United States.

The letter was signed by the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, Tom Lantos of California, and 44 other mostly-Democrat members of the House.

The lawmakers also urge the Bush administration to raise what they call the deteriorating human rights tragedy in Aceh at the United Nations Security Council, and take a leadership role in working for a ceasefire in Aceh.

The Bush administration supports full resumption of "IMET" (International Military Education Training) training for Indonesia's military, saying this would help the professionalize the army, and enhance Jakarta's capabilities in the war on terror.

Congress approved $400,000 for training in 2003. However, the program has essentially been on hold.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted in May to restrict funding for 2004 until President Bush certifies Indonesia is fully investigating, and seeking to prosecute those responsible for, an attack on U.S. citizens in West Papua in 2002. Indonesia's military has been implicated in that incident.

At a hearing Thursday of the House International Relations Committee, U.S. State Department and military officials voiced support for IMET. "The TNI [Indonesian military] is one of the coherent institutions there, and they need reform," said Admiral Thomas Fargo, head of the U.S. Pacific Command. "Certainly we all agree with that. IMET and these other programs are a clear path to provide the TNI with the kind of model that they need to facilitate that reform."

The congressional appeal to Secretary Powell concerning Aceh comes amid latest reports of violence there, and the uncovering of additional mass graves.

Indonesia's military has accused separatist rebels of carrying out mass killings, a charge denied by the rebels. Human rights organizations say both sides have carried out extra-judicial killings.