Before members of the U.S. House of Representatives began a month-long recess, they turned their attention once again to the situation in Indonesia. During debate over legislation to fund U.S. foreign assistance programs, the Indonesian government came in for more sharp criticism from lawmakers over human rights and other issues.
Each year, a legislative battle over U.S. policy toward Indonesia takes place, focusing on U.S. government funding for "education training" for members of Indonesia's military.
The government in Jakarta has faced sharp criticism over reports of human rights abuses as its military presses an offensive against separatist rebels in Aceh province.
It has also been criticized for a still-incomplete investigation into the deaths of two Americans and an Indonesian, and the wounding of 11 other people, in an attack in West Papua in 2002. Investigations so far point to Indonesian military involvement in those attacks.
During consideration of separate foreign aid bills, the House of Representatives voted to bar Indonesia from receiving International Military Education Training (IMET) funds in the coming 2004 fiscal year.
The ban would remain in effect until President Bush certifies to Congress that Indonesia's government and armed forces are taking "effective measures" and cooperating with U.S. authorities, to investigate the attack in West Papua and prosecute those responsible.
A Republican, Joel Hefley of Colorado, introduced the amendments to cut the assistance. "Every indication in our investigation so far, by the CIA, the FBI, and even the Indonesian police forces, indicate that the military was responsible for this attack," he said. "But after all these months, we're getting little or no cooperation with the investigation. That's what we want to get to the bottom of. We want to find out who did this and bring these killers to justice."
The Bush administration favors IMET, saying it is needed more now than ever, to encourage cooperation by governments in the war on terror. Before the House votes, it had wanted to use 400 thousand dollars in general funds from the 2003 budget to resume military education training for Indonesia.
Arguing against the ban on funds for Indonesia was one of Mr. Hefley's fellow Republicans, Jim Kolbe of Arizona. "We are very concerned about it [problems in Indonesia]. But certainly, attacking IMET as the way to get at this would be the absolutely contrary way to do so," he said. "IMET is about exposing foreign military officers and enlisted personnel to civilian control to respect for human rights, to the rule of law."
In testimony to Congress this year, Bush administration officials said they continue to press Jakarta on the West Papua investigation.
During a recent hearing, a Democratic Senator, Russ Feingold, pressed Director of the FBI Robert Mueller on the question of Indonesian cooperation in the investigation of the 2002 attack on Americans:
"I am concerned about the integrity of the investigation process, specifically whether the FBI has been able to conduct interviews without Indonesian military minders present, and whether the FBI has been provided access to all the evidence previously requested as part of the investigation," Senator Feingold said.
"Early on, the investigation was going in fits and starts. More recently we have had a team over in Indonesia, working with the Indonesians," Mr. Mueller said. "I know part of the process while they were there was obtaining all of the evidence necessary to the investigation and my understanding is that that evidence is currently being flown back to our laboratory for analysis."
But some lawmakers say Indonesia's attitude toward the investigation is a small part of a much larger problem. "Nothing has changed," said Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinish. "Indonesia's military has continued to engage in horrific human rights violations, against its own people, especially in Aceh and Papua, has obstructed the investigation of the deaths of two U.S. and one Indonesian citizen, and deliberately evaded accountability for crimes against humanity in East Timor."
The amendments accepted by the House reduce by $600,000 the amount of money contained in the U.S. government's 2004 budget for all international military education training.
However, approval of Congressman Hefley's amendments in both major foreign assistance bills makes clear the intent of the House is to bar training funds specifically for Indonesia.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted last May in favor of a similar restriction.