Wed, Dec 07, 2005 - Page 9 News List

US restores security ties with Indonesia

By Richard Halloran

The US has begun to restore security relations with deeply troubled Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, which sits alongside the vital shipping lanes through the South China Sea in Southeast Asia.

The State Department announced a couple of weeks ago that a ban on defense exports to Indonesia had been lifted.

That was the third step taken over the past year, a ban on non-lethal military exports having been lifted in May and the resumption of military education having been decided in February.

Admiral William Fallon, commanding officer of the Pacific Command, with headquarters in Hawaii, said in an interview that he was pleased with the decision as "it's in our best interests."

The admiral, who had been quietly lobbying the state and defense departments and Congress to adopt a new policy, said his staff and the US Embassy in Jakarta were drawing up lists of "exactly what to do with this opportunity."

Fallon said he didn't want to get out ahead of the process, which will require agreement with Indonesian leaders, but suggested that enhanced maritime security would be a top priority. On a mundane level would come spare parts for US equipment that Indonesia had acquired but which sorely needed repair.

The State Department announcement said the new policy was intended, among other things, to "support US and Indonesian security objectives, including counter-terrorism, maritime security, and disaster relief."

The US, under pressure from human rights activists and Congress, cut security relations with Indonesia in the 1990s to protest Indonesian army abuses during East Timor's struggle for independence. The army had also been accused of abuses against separatists in Aceh at the western end of the archipelago of 6,000 inhabited islands.

"The US remains committed to pressing for accountability for past human rights abuses," the State Department said, "and US assistance will continue to be guided by Indonesia's progress on democratic reform."

Admiral Fallon said several times that his command was "sensitive" to those violations of human rights.

Many US officers have been eager to resume a program called International Military Education and Training (IMET), as it could be the most effective way to influence Indonesian officers on the missions and behavior of the armed forces in a democratic nation.

Indonesia's president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, may be case in point. He is a retired army general who attended two US military schools and once trained with the 82nd Airborne Division. He is regarded as a reformer who has sought to get Indonesia's armed forces out of politics.

Indonesia's troubles are many: terror led by Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), piracy in nearby waters, the devastation caused by the tsunami last December, and public health threats from avian flu and AIDS.

When Indonesian police raided a JI hideout in early November and killed a leader named Azahari bin Husin, they found the terrorists planning to attack Americans, Australians and other westerners in Jakarta.

"Specifically," the State Department said in a travel warning, "they discovered 35 bombs prepared and ready to use."

The JI, which is allied with al-Qaeda terrorists led by Osama bin Laden, is believed to have set off bombs in Bali in 2002, in a Jakarta hotel in 2003, near the Australian embassy in Jakarta last year and three simultaneous explosions in Bali on Oct. 1.

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