Cohen urges TNI to make ‘right choice’


THE United States yesterday said the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) is at a critical turning point in history and that it should further the cause of democracy in the country, not hinder it.

American Defence Secretary William Cohen said after meeting TNI chief General Wiranto that he had urged the four-star general to “make the right choice” as the beleaguered military faced international criticism over alleged human rights abuses in East Timor, where detractors have charged that it was aiding militias.

He said that the TNI would be doing “severe damage” to Indonesia if it did not disarm pro-Jakarta militias.

“If it supports the government’s policy, contributes to a peaceful solution in East Timor, it will be acting in a manner consistent with Indonesia’s national interests and international obligations,” he said.

Citing an example later, he said foreign investors would think twice about putting their money into the country if the situation in East Timor and other parts of Indonesia continued to be influenced by the TNI.

Indonesian troops, he noted, had abetted a campaign of killings and arson by anti-independence militiamen in East Timor after the territory voted in August for independence and warned that Washington would not countenance restoring suspended defence links.

Responding to his threat, several Indonesian army generals and intelligence officials told The Straits Times that the US and other countries like Australia, which is leading the 8,000-strong peacekeeping force in East Timor, were bent on “forcing their ways” on the country. “Their statements smack of Western arrogance and are so different from the way Asian countries have treated us these last few months,” said a three-star general.

“Singapore, for example, has kept a distance and through quiet diplomacy helped us when we needed help. As a friend and neighbouring country, Singapore had the confidence that Indonesia would sort out its own problems in the long-term, even if things were going to get messy.”

Despite his tough stance, Mr Cohen struck an optimistic note by registering the point that Indonesian leaders were committed to peace in East Timor.

“They are committed to seeing the success of the peacekeeping mission,” he told American reporters accompanying him on the two-day trip to Jakarta where he also met President B.J. Habibie and presidential aspirant Megawati Sukarnoputri.

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