SAS training with Kopassus despite rights concerns

SAS training with Kopassus despite rights concerns

ABC News, 28 September 2010


Soldiers from Australia's elite SAS are conducting a counter-terrorism exercise in Bali today with Indonesia's controversial special forces unit, Kopassus.

The exercise is modelled on a Mumbai-style terrorist attack in which tourists are taken hostage in Bali's international airport.

But human rights activists have criticised the training, saying Kopassus is still involved in human rights abuses despite more than 10 years of reform.

The Defence department would not answer specific questions about the training and would not allow any officers or officials to be interviewed. It says Australia's training emphasises respect for human rights and the laws of armed conflict.

Kopassus commander Major General Lodewijk Paulus says his men are watching over the safety of Australian visitors.

"There are lots of Australian people in Bali so I want to show them, I want to give information to them: day by day the Australians [are] still protected by the Kopassus," he said.

And General Lodewijk says the training shows concerns about human rights abuse are a thing of the past.

"We have changed already," he said.

"We changed our doctrine, we changed our culture ... so now Kopassus [is] different than the last Kopassus."

But human rights campaigners say the unit continues to be involved in serious crimes.

Sophie Richardson, from the US-based Human Rights Watch, says documented abuse continues and the Australian training undermines the push for reform.

"This is an ongoing problem. It is not a thing of the past," she said.

"Very few people from Kopassus have been investigated, convicted and served appropriate sentences for serious crimes."

The ABC has confirmed that several Kopassus officers convicted over murder and kidnapping plots have been moved sideways into other military jobs.


Training with SAS: Kopassus has been accused of

numerous human rights abuses

US training plans
The United States military is also planning to resume training Kopassus.

But, unlike the Australian Parliament, the US Congress has demanded evidence of reform and accountability, and the type of training is still being debated.

General Lodewijk is hoping that today's exercise with the Australians will show the Americans the way forward.

"I hope so, I hope so, because they know well about Australia and I think they believe Australia," he said.

General Lodewijk says none of the men in his "new Kopassus" have blood on their hands.

As he pushed the Americans to renew their ties earlier this year, General Lodewijk moved against several officers who had been convicted over plots involving kidnap and murder.

"They already punished by the court, but still in the Kopassus. So, OK, all of the people in the situation like this, better they go out from Kopassus," he said.

The US says it will not renew training unless Kopassus soldiers who have been convicted of abuse are dismissed from the military altogether.

And the ABC has confirmed the convicted officers in question have simply been moved into other units - one of them is even in a senior training role.

Others, credibly suspected of serious crimes, remain on active duty with Kopassus.

The US embassy would not comment on whether that would affect the nation's training plans.

Meanwhile, General Lodewijk is looking forward to even deeper ties with Australia's SAS.

He is pushing for urban warfare training in Australia next year, and jungle warfare training in Indonesia too.