Date: Mon Jun 16, 2003
10:12:27 MNJ US/Eastern
Subject: U.S. Weapons Aid Repression in Aceh
U.S. Weapons Aid Repression in Aceh
( June 11, 2003) Far from the spotlight
and far from Baghdad, another shock and awe campaign is
underway. On May 19th, Indonesia launched a military campaign
to "strike and paralyze" a small band of separatist
rebels in the Aceh province. In a made-for-TV photo op,
458 soldiers parachuted onto the island from six C-130
Hercules transport aircraft manufactured by Lockheed Martin,
the United States' largest defense contractor. As many
as 40,000 Indonesian troops and a police force of 10,000
followed close behind, backed up by warships, fighter
planes, and other high-tech military equipment, declaring
war on 5,000 separatist guerillas armed with automatic
weapons, mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades.
The attack, which is Indonesia's biggest military campaign since
its invasion and occupation of East Timor in 1975, follows
the breakdown of five months of peace talks between the
Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian government.
Nongovernmental organizations working to bridge the gap
between GAM's assertion of total Acehnese independence
and Jakarta's insistence that Aceh remain part of the
nation, campaigned for both sides to accept greater Acehnese
autonomy and at least some say over how profits from the
island's rich resources--including oil and gas reserves--are
apportioned. While there was popular support for these
compromises throughout Indonesia, and the peace talks
had broad support--including from the Bush administration
and international lending institutions--the negotiations
broke off in mid-May.
Indiscriminate Killing Acehnese rebels have been fighting for independence
for 27 years, in a guerrilla war that has cost the lives
of 10,000 civilians and forced tens of thousands more to leave their homes.
While Indonesian military officials claim to be targeting armed
rebels, they are employing "drain the ocean to kill
the fish" tactics, with brutality and indiscriminate
killing. On May 21st, Indonesian soldiers carried out
two massacres; killing at least 14 unarmed people, including
two 12-year-old boys. That was not an isolated incident.
According to Amnesty International, the Indonesian military has engaged in extrajudicial
executions of civilians--even children. The human rights
group also charges that there is "widespread …
torture of detainees in both military and police custody."
Two weeks into the intervention, the Indonesian military claims
that it has killed 112 GAM fighters and captured 160,
with an additional 92 surrendering. It also says that
its own casualties and civilian deaths have been kept
to a minimum, reporting that 10 soldiers and one civilian
have been killed. Rebel sources contest these figures,
saying that scores of civilians and hundreds of government
soldiers have been killed.
While the true number of civilians killed in this intervention
probably lie somewhere between the GAM and military counts,
the displacement of civilians by the military is ongoing
and well-documented by outside sources. The London-based
Times quotes the Jakarta government as saying that as
many as 200,000 civilians living in GAM strongholds will
be interned in "strategic hamlets" for the duration
of the war.
The majority of the schools in the region have been burned to the
ground. While GAM and the Indonesian military each blame
the other for the arson, the destruction was well orchestrated,
which points to the military as the culprit. This seems
to be part of a larger plan to draw popular support away
from the rebels.
Do Not Equal Influence
In addition to the well-publicized use of U.S. origin C-130s, the
Indonesian Air Force has deployed Rockwell International
OV-10 Bronco attack planes, firing air-to-surface missiles
at targets in Aceh. Other
U.S. systems, like the F-16 Fighting Falcon multi-role fighter
jets, S-58 Twinpack helicopters, and numerous small arms,
are ready for deployment. The United States Arms Export
Control Act stipulates that weapons are transferred to
other countries to be used for self-defense, internal
security, and participation in UN operations. It is difficult
to see how one could classify what is going on in Aceh
as meeting any of these three criteria.
In light of these violations of U.S. law and the fact the Washington
backed the peace talks between GAM and Jakarta, the criticism
of the military operation from the Bush administration
has been exceedingly weak. Deputy Secretary of Defense
Paul Wolfowitz, who served as
Ambassador to Indonesia under President Reagan and was friendly
with Dictator Suharto, issued a statement saying that
"it would be helpful if Indonesia would make sure
that the actions of its forces are transparent …
it will help encourage the world that Indonesia is behaving
professionally and carefully."
While the Indonesian military has taken a page from the U.S. war
in Iraq, embedding journalists and providing media access,
its actions are far from transparent. Members of the media
have been fired upon, threatened, and detained in the
conflict area, and the military authorities have sought
to curtail what news does appear, demanding for instance
that journalists stop quoting GAM leaders.
Local human rights organizations have been attacked and international
observers dispelled from the region, triggering concerns
about the safety of civilians and the "transparency"
with which the operation is being carried out.
For many years, the U.S. was Indonesia's largest weapons source,
equipping the country with everything from F-16 fighter
planes to M-16 combat rifles. From the bloody 1975 invasion
through the 1990s, the U.S. transferred more than $1 billion
in weaponry to Jakarta. Congress moved to ban some military
exports to and training for Indonesia after the 1991 Santa
Cruz massacre in East Timor, where soldiers wielding U.S.
M-16s mowed down more than 270 unarmed people. And then,
in response to military and paramilitary violence after
East Timor's vote for independence in 1999, Congress strengthened
the ban, establishing a set of criteria Indonesia must
meet before military ties can be resumed. None of the
criteria, including the transparency in military budget
and the prosecution of soldiers involved in human rights
violations, have been fully met.
Process Gives Military a Free Pass
While the Indonesian government claims it is making strides to
address human rights and military impunity, all the signs
point in the exact opposite direction. In January an Indonesian
court acquitted Brigadier General Tono Suratman, who was
accused of human rights violations in East Timor. He is
the 12th defendant acquitted by the court.
Even worse is the case of Major General Adam Damiri, who is on
trial before a Jakarta human rights court for perpetrating
crimes against humanity in East Timor. He has missed three
consecutive court appearances because he is helping supervise
the military assault on Aceh. Now the Indonesian prosecutors
have recommended that all charges against him be dropped.
This action makes it likely that there will be no serious
penalties levied against the Indonesian military for its
brutality in East Timor.
Despite the worsening crisis in Indonesia, the U.S.'s military
embargo is under serious pressure as the Bush administration
seeks a closer relationship with the world's largest Muslim
democracy. In an effort to win support in the war on terrorism,
the White House is seeking to renew military aid and training.
The embargo on commercial sales of non-lethal defense
articles has been lifted and contact between the two militaries
is on the rise. Now, Indonesia's military benefits from
the Regional Defense Counter-terrorism Fellowship Program,
a $17.9 million military training program for Asian militaries.
These steps send a message of support to Jakarta, even
as many of the problems that sparked Congress' decision
to freeze all military aid have not been resolved.
There has been some good news though. The Senate Foreign Relations
Committee recently passed an amendment restricting International
Military Education and Training (IMET) for 2004 for Indonesia
until the government takes "effective measures"
to investigate and criminally prosecute those responsible
for a 2002 attack on U.S. citizens. Indonesian police
and NGO investigations have implicated the Indonesian
military (TNI) in the attack, which killed two Americans.
This is a step in the right direction, but the Indonesia
military technically still has access to IMET funding
Washington often argues that weapons sales allow the administration
to wield influence over the policies of purchasing nations.
Well, Indonesian General Endriartono Sutarto has a response
to that. When asked about the use of UK-origin Hawk fighters
in Aceh, he said, "I am going to use what I have.
After all, I have paid already." The same can be
said for U.S. weapons. These weapons do not go away. The
Bronco planes bombing Aceh today are very likely the same
ones that dropped
napalm and missiles (and maybe even the bomb that killed the sister
of Nobel Prize-winning Timorese leader Jose Ramos Horta)
in East Timor in1975.
Given the central role of U.S. weapons in this new round of government
sanctioned killing, weapons that Indonesia has paid for
already, how can the Bush administration wield its influence
to demand more from our ally than "transparent"
If the assertions that weapons sales equal influence are to be
believed, the White House and Congress must muster the
courage and compassion to demand an immediate cessation
of military activities and a return to the negotiating
table. Otherwise, our government bears some responsibility
for the indiscriminate (but transparent) killing of unarmed
(Frida Berrigan <BerrigaF@newschool.edu> is a senior research
associate with the Arms Trade Resource Center, a project
of the World Policy Institute. She writes regularly for
Foreign Policy In Focus (online at www.fpif.org).)
The Arms Trade Resource Center was established in 1993 to engage in public education and policy
advocacy aimed at promoting restraint in the international