U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced Thursday the U.S. will resume military cooperation with Indonesia's special forces. The United States had suspended military ties with the unit in 1999 for alleged involvement in human rights abuses.
In his second visit to Indonesia as defense secretary, Gates said the Indonesian army, known as TNI, has made significant progress in addressing human rights issues. Following talks in Jakarta with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Gates announced the resumption of military cooperation between the United States and Kopassus, the controversial Indonesian Army Special Forces.
"I told the president that as a result of these significant steps and the other reforms that the TNI has undertaken, the United States will begin a measured and gradual program of security cooperation activities with the Indonesian Army Special Forces, Kopassus," Gates said.
Indonesia's special forces were accused of major abuses through the 1990s in the provinces of Papua and Aceh and the former Indonesian province of East Timor, which has since become independent. The U.S. cut ties with the special forces under a 1997 law, which banned U.S. training of foreign military units accused of human rights violations. The ban can be lifted if there have been substantial measures to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Indonesia has not yet passed that test, said Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch, adding that Kopassus is still involved in human rights abuses.
"We reported last year about abuses by Kopassus in parts of Papua. The recently promoted deputy commander is someone we have concerns about," Robertson said. "So, we are very concerned about the ongoing role and record of this unit, Kopassus, and feel that they really have to go under a microscope to ensure that any training for Kopassus would be given only to persons who have not been credibly linked to human rights abuses in the past."
Robertson said independent investigations into human rights abuses and the prosecution of those involved in past crimes should be required before military cooperation is resumed.
But Secretary Gates made the case for engaging with the Indonesian military, arguing that closer ties will further the cause of human rights.
"I think the questions boil down to, how do you best further advance human rights? And my view is that, particularly if people are making an effort to make progress that recognizes that effort, and working with them further will produce greater gains in human rights for people than standing back and shouting at people."
The defense secretary also said the military cooperation will take place within the limits of U.S. law and that any Kopassus member linked to past human rights abuses will be excluded from any joint activities.