US funds for Indonesia’s fight against terror

The bulk of the $88 million is for training police, and the US says full resumption of military ties is still some way off.

The United States yesterday pledged more than US$50 million (S$88 million) over the next few years to help Indonesian security forces fight terrorism, but indicated there was still some way to go before full restoration of military ties.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell, announcing the aid during a one-day visit, said patching up military ties severed three years ago would depend on the Indonesian defence forces (TNI) improving their human-rights record.

But he made it clear that Washington was prepared to expand its links with the military, given the role Indonesia could play in helping the US fight global terrorism.

‘We are starting down a path to a normal relationship with respect to military-to-military ties. We are not there yet,’ he told reporters after meeting President Megawati Sukarnoputri and ministers.

The US Congress, which has been the main obstacle to fully resumed ties, ‘is watching carefully and expecting action to be taken with respect to past abuses that might have occurred’, he said.

‘Much more will have to happen in the months ahead as we watch the performance of the TNI and as we make sure that problems that appeared in the past, where accountability has still yet to be placed, will be dealt with.

‘We will measure this and this will assist us in taking the case for further support to our Congress,’ he said.

Washington regards South-east Asia as a second front in the fight against terrorism and has tried to find a balance between registering its concerns about human rights and the need to work with those it has criticised.

The State Department voiced its concern earlier this year that militants linked to Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network were in Indonesia.

It was a point that Jakarta has previously downplayed or dismissed – and yesterday Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayudah made a point of telling his American visitors that Indonesia was ‘no Afghanistan’.

Analysts said it was understandable that the US was prepared to work with Indonesia, given the need to bring the world’s largest Muslim nation into its global campaign.

Of the more than US$50 million which Washington has pledged, US$31 million is for police training for the next two years. Another US$16 million is for a new police counter-terrorism unit and other programmes, and about US$4 million will be given as counter-terrorism ‘fellowships’ for military officials.

The move did little to assuage the political elite and military officials, which had hoped ties – cut after TNI-backed militias ran riot in East Timor in 1999 – would be restored fully.

The air force and navy were particularly keen, as their operational readiness has been hit by Washington’s ban on weapons sales and direct military assistance.

While in Jakarta, Mr Powell also called on the government to step up legal reform and stamp out corruption.

There had been concern that Muslim groups would stage massive demonstrations during Mr Powell’s visit – as they had threatened to do. The groups were a no-show but a crowd of about 50 people demonstrated peacefully outside the US Embassy.

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