Albion Monitor /News

Diplomat Warns of Violent Indonesia Supression

by Sonny Inbaraj

(IPS) DARWIN -- The Australian government is being warned to dissociate itself from Indonesia's armed forces, because of the possibility that the military might use force in suppressing rioting and political dissent sparked by the country's deepening economic crisis.

The warning was aired by the defense attache to the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, Brigadier Jim Molan, as Indonesia's President Suharto got a seventh, five-year term on Tuesday, March 10, armed with sweeping emergency powers to deal with the financial turmoil and social unrest in its wake.

Warns that Australia has rapidly expanding role in training Indonesian special forces associated with human rights abuses
The Suharto government has yet to publicly define the scope of these powers. However, analysts say these powers could well allow Suharto -- who already dominates the parliament and has other broad controls -- room to clamp down on political dissent, dissolve the parliament or ban political parties.

So far, the set of powers looks similar to those made available to the government to check unrest during the 1960s. Government supporters say the expanded powers would allow Suharto, 76, to take whatever action is needed to address the economic crisis and to arrest problems in the "development of the country."

"The rapidly expanding role of the (Australian) Defense Force in training Indonesian soldiers, including crack special forces, risks associating Australia with human rights abuses," Brigadier Molan told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Canberra has a security treaty with Jakarta and Brigadier Molan played a leading role in setting up training operations between the Australian Defense Force (ADF) and the Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI) in the lead-up to the signing of the 1995 Australia- Indonesia Agreement on Maintaining Security.

In the security agreement, the ADF had been authorized to work with ABRI by first setting up links with Indonesia's Special Forces, Kopassus. Kopassus troops were instrumental in the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975 and were used to protect Suharto's palace during political riots in Jakarta two years ago.

The subsequent cooperation has been so successful that Australia has replaced the United States -- which suspended military training after the 1991 Dili massacre in East Timor -- as Indonesia's closest defense partner and supplier of training.

However, Brigadier Molan identified several problems with the cooperation. He says there is a risk of association with any internal Indonesian human rights problems caused by a military force that can be linked in some way to the Australian military.

This, he added, could confuse Australia's traditional allies, like the United States and Britain, which are taking a more progressive stand on human rights particularly in East Timor. Also, Molan warned that Australia's ability to raise human rights questions in international forums could be viewed with suspicion because of this association with the Indonesian military.

"Key policymakers have agreed that 'there is no alternative' to the 76-year-old dictator as he prepares to go through the charade of being re-elected unopposed as president for another five years
Another worrying factor is the accusations against senior Indonesian government and military officials suspected of fueling anti-Chinese sentiment that has led to rioting in recent months.

Thousands of poor Indonesians, angered by rising prices and mass unemployment, have burnt shops owned by the ethnic Chinese minority, who dominate the country's retail sector, in dozens of towns recently.

Molan said this could complicate Australia's relations with China if Beijing takes the view that Canberra-Jakarta military cooperation is contributing to a security arrangement aimed at establishing an anti-Chinese coalition.

Defence analysts are worried that China, whose territorial claims in the Spratlys and Paracel Islands are already a source of friction in the region, could raise ethnic tensions in the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) by speaking out for its brethren in Indonesia.

So far, however, Chinese foreign ministry officials have said that Jakarta is trying its best to address the economic crisis and that it is capable to maintaining social harmony.

In 1960, the Chinese government arranged for the repatriation of 100,000 Chinese from Indonesia to the mainland. These Chinese were seeking refuge from the militant Islamic groups in the then- flourishing Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).

"If Southeast Asia maintains its stability, China has a much greater chance to remain at peace. But if South-east Asia becomes a region of instability or potential threats, China might be drawn into that instability, with consequences for the entire Pacific region, including Australia," Paul Wolfowitz, who served as U.S. ambassador to Indonesia between 1986 and 1989, wrote in the Australian Financial Review.

In the coming months, ties between the two countries would be put to serious test if protesters are killed in Indonesia. Commentators have already started clamoring for Australia to give Suharto the shove, pointing out that Canberra is missing the point in its Indonesia strategy.

"The upshot is that key policymakers in Canberra have agreed that 'there is no alternative' to the 76-year-old dictator as he prepares to go through the charade of being re-elected unopposed as president for another five years. There is no alternative, however, because that is how Suharto has been encouraged to wield power for decades," said Brian Toohey, a columnist with the Sydney-based Australian Financial Review.

"Suharto should not be allowed to get away with brandishing the threat that social order will break down unless his dictatorial behavior continues to be sanctioned," added Toohey.

To influence change in Indonesia, Toohey said conditions should be attached to the $43 billion rescue package the IMF put together for the country. "There is nothing wrong with attaching conditions. Given that a crucial element of the problem in Indonesia is political, these conditions should include a clear commitment to political reform," he argued.

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Albion Monitor March 16, 1998 (

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