US Criticized For Cozying Up To Kopassus

US Criticized For Cozying Up To Kopassus

By: Roy Tupai, Paras, Indonesia 13 April 2006

A human rights group has criticized the US government for inviting the chief of the Indonesian Armys elite Special Forces (Kopassus) to a recent regional military conference aimed at combating terrorism.

The New York-based East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) says the participation of Kopassus chief Major General Syaiful Rizal in the Pentagons annual Pacific Area Special Operation Conference (PASOC) was a “bad precedent and a setback for efforts at reform and accountability”.

Kopassus has long been accused of human rights violations in East Timor, Aceh, Papua and elsewhere. Analysts say Kopassus often operated in an illegal manner and some feel there is little evidence it has changed its ways despite reforms within the Indonesian military since 1999.

This years PASOC was held over April 3-7 at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort in Honolulu, Hawaii. The theme of the conference was Disrupting the Conditions that Assist Terrorist Networks. It was the first time Indonesia had participated since 1998.

“Kopassus participation in PASOC is yet another indicator of the unwise approach the Bush administration is taking toward Indonesias military. They may see the Kopassus as an ally against terrorism, but Kopassus itself often acts like a terrorist group, attacking civilians for political ends,” ETAN coordinator John M. Miller said in a statement released April 6.

“There can be no doubt that Kopassus will portray participation in PASOC as an exoneration by the US. By publicly anointing the Kopassus commander, the US has gravely undermined the struggle within Indonesia to end impunity,” said ETAN advisor Edmund McWilliams.

“This is a devastating betrayal of Indonesian human rights advocates and their efforts to reform the military and its most notorious command,” added McWilliams, who headed the political section of the US Embassy in Jakarta from 1996 to 1999.

“With Indonesian security forces still engaged in atrocities in West Papua and continuing to deny their role in crimes against humanity in East Timor and elsewhere, President Bushs rush to engage the military is counterproductive to advancing democratic change in Indonesia,” said Miller.

The US State Department last month provided formal notice that it will consider provision of lethal military equipment to Indonesia.

According to Damien Kingsbury, an Australian expert on the Indonesian military: “Kopassus has murdered and tortured political activists, trade unionists and human rights workers. It has also trained, equipped and led militias in East Timor, West Papua and Aceh, and Kopassus members trained the notorious Laskar Jihad Islamic militia, which stepped up conflict in the Ambon region, leaving up to 10,000 dead. It was Kopassus that murdered Papuan independence leader Theys Eluay in 2001.”

While some analysts feel that its vital for Western nations to include Kopassus in the fight against terrorism, Kingsbury has said the unit should be disbanded. “My well stated opposition to Kopassus stems from having seen it first hand perpetrate myriad abuses in a range of places, and Im not against countries having a military as such – of course, everybody needs to defend themselves. But Kopassus really, its culture is so deeply entrenched that really, even the former US ambassador has said that its impossible to reform it. It`s an organization that really needs to be thrown out and if you want that sort of special services unit, you have to start again,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in December 2005.

Delegates from about 25 countries participated the 13th annual PASOC, which was hosted by the US Pacific Commands Special Operations Center.

The PASOC website said the conference “significantly contributes to the Global War on Terrorism by bringing together international SOF [special operations forces] military leaders from Pacific Rim nations to exchange ideas, develop multilateral methods and procedures in combating terrorism, and establish professional contacts for crisis response”.

PASOC`s key objectives involve developing potential operational approaches through multilateral cooperation to counter/alleviate underlying conditions that support terrorism.

The countries invited to this years PASOC were: Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Comoros, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Timor Leste, Thailand, UK and Vietnam.

Kopassus chief Rizal welcomed Indonesias return to PASOC, saying it indicated that bilateral military relations were improving further after Washingtons decision to lift an embargo on arms sales to Jakarta in November 2005. “In addition, it is the start of renewed efforts to explore possibilities of cooperation,” he was quoted as saying by state news agency Antara.

Training: From Australia To Yemen Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono last week said Kopassus would teach Yemens Special Forces how to uphold security and combat terrorism.

He made the announcement after a meeting with Yemeni Ambassador Abdulrahman Alhothi in Jakarta on April 5 but did not specify when any training would take place. “The Yemeni Special Forces has heard a great deal about the Indonesian Army`s elite force and become interested in learning from it,” the minister was quoted as saying by Antara.

Long-serving Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh formed his country`s Special Forces unit in 1999. The unit is led by Salehs eldest son Ahmad.

Kopassus has reportedly provided training to Cambodias special forces in the past.

The Australian government recently ended a seven-year ban on training Kopassus soldiers in Australia, with the holding a joint counter-terrorism exercise in the West Australian capital of Perth.

The decision to resume the training was announced in December 2005 by former defense minister Robert Hill, who claimed no troops with past records of human rights abuses would be involved. He said Canberra decided to lift the ban to “further strengthen the regions ability to tackle terrorism” and because Kopassus forces “might one day save Australian lives in Indonesia”.

Exercise Dawn Kookaburra took place over two weeks in Perth in February 2006, with members of Kopassus Unit 81 training alongside members of Australias Special Air Service Regiment. “Exercise Dawn Kookaburra focused on specific skills that would be required for counter hijack and hostage recovery operations,” said an Australian military spokesman. “For operational security reasons, we will not be specific about the number of personnel training in counter hijack and hostage recovery skills,” he added.

Australia has said further joint training will take place next year.

Critics such as Kingsbury argued that the training was unwarranted because the Indonesian police, not the military, have been the most active and successful in combating terrorism over recent years.

Asmara Nababan, executive director of the Institute for Human Rights and Democracy Studies, concurred that the police are playing the lead role in Indonesias war against terrorism. He questioned the relevance and urgency of training Kopassus, saying that Australia had merely resumed the training as a reward for improved ties with Indonesia.

Nababan also questioned whether Kopassus had undertaken meaningful reform and warned the force could commit more rights abuses in the future.

Some nationalist Indonesian legislators expressed reservations over the training for Kopassus, claiming Australia might exploit the program to intervene in Indonesias domestic affairs.