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U.S. Warns Indonesia to Cooperate in Probe

The Asian nation's military was implicated in the deaths of two American teachers.

May 31, 2003|Sonni Efron | Times Staff Writer

SINGAPORE — Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz said Friday that Indonesia has been warned "at the highest levels" that it must fully investigate last year's killings of two U.S. teachers in that country -- a crime in which the Indonesian military has been implicated.

Washington, which is withholding military aid to Jakarta over the issue, says the Indonesian government has failed to cooperate with an FBI investigation into the killings of the two Americans and the wounding of eight others in August in Papua, near the U.S.-owned Freeport gold and copper mine. A police investigation pointed to the military in the ambush, but it denied involvement.

"We've made it clear at the highest levels in the Indonesian government that we need satisfactory cooperation from Indonesia or it will affect the whole relationship," Wolfowitz said after meeting here with Indonesian Defense Minister Matori Abdul Jalil.

Wolfowitz also expressed concerns over the conduct of the Indonesian military in the separatist-minded northern province of Aceh.

The harsh words from Wolfowitz, a former U.S. ambassador to Jakarta, came even as Washington is trying to strengthen its relationship with Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation and an important ally in the U.S.-declared war on terrorism.

The United States is disappointed by the recent breakdown of talks in Tokyo between an Aceh-based Muslim separatist group and the Indonesian government, Wolfowitz said.

Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri declared martial law in Aceh on May 19 and sent in paratroopers. Human Rights Watch says the province is now closed to international monitors but that there have been reports of extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses.

"It is important in whatever Indonesia does militarily to keep in mind that the ultimate goal has to be a political solution," Wolfowitz said. He called on the government to let observers in to monitor the troops' behavior.

Jalil, standing beside the U.S. official before a bank of television cameras, did not address Wolfowitz's concerns. He said he hoped the Indonesian military campaign in Aceh would last less than six months and insisted that the troops were playing a humanitarian as well as military role.

Despite the concerns, Wolfowitz said the Bush administration is considering releasing $400,000 in aid for a program to bring young Indonesian military officers to the U.S. for education and training, including in human rights issues. Congress has approved the funds, but Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and other critics have been urging the administration to withhold the money until the Indonesian government embarks on serious military reform.

This month, 17 senators wrote a letter to Megawati expressing concern that witness intimidation had obstructed the stalled investigation into the Americans' deaths in Papua and urging her to let the FBI have unfettered access to all witnesses and evidence.

The Pentagon wants to reestablish ties with the Indonesian military, which were cut in 1999 in the wake of violence against civilians in East Timor, in order to help fight the Al Qaeda terrorist network. The bombing of two Bali nightclubs in October drew attention to Indonesia's vulnerability to terrorism.

Other supporters of the International Military and Education Training program say they wish Washington would find a different way to express its displeasure with the Indonesian military.

"The young officer corps gets to be senior-level without any grounding in American values, standards and expectations. It's not in our interest," said Sen. Charles Hagel (R-Neb.), who joined Wolfowitz on Friday at a meeting of Asian defense ministers in Singapore.

Meanwhile, human rights advocates say attempts to bring to justice members of the military responsible for atrocities in East Timor, a former Indonesian province, are failing.

A U.N. report found that the Indonesian military bore responsibility for the pro-Jakarta militia that terrorized the population of East Timor after it voted for independence. The Indonesian government set up an ad hoc human rights court, and so far it has acquitted 12 of the 16 defendants.

A verdict in the case against the highest-ranking military figure indicted, Maj. Gen. Adam Damiri, is expected soon. Damiri is involved in the Indonesian military assault on Aceh, according to a letter released this week by U.S. religious leaders.

The letter calls the current court a sham and urges the U.S. to push for an international tribunal for East Timor.

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