US’s Kopassus Ban May Lead Indonesian Military to Look Elsewhere

US’s Kopassus Ban May Lead Indonesian Military to Look Elsewhere

14 March, 2010
Markus Junianto Sihaloho

 

If the United States does not lift its ban on cooperation with the Army’s Special Forces, the Indonesian military says it will simply establish ties with other nations.

While acknowledging the “problems” the United States had with the elite unit, also known as Kopassus, military spokesman Air Vice Marshal Sagom Tamboen on Sunday said that cooperation between the two nations’ militaries was generally positive.

But he said if the 12-year ban was not lifted, “we can cooperate with other countries, like Germany, Australia or England.”

“We have already received proposals for military cooperation from a number of other countries,” he added.

Human Rights Watch on Friday called on the US government to rethink any plans to lift the ban on training cooperation, saying it should only be repealed if Indonesia took sufficient steps toward raising accountability and initiating reforms to deter future human rights abuses.

Kopassus is banned from receiving US military education or training, following allegations of their involvement in a number of past atrocities.

Of particular concern, HRW noted, was the recent appointment of Lt. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin as deputy defense minister despite his alleged involvement in abuses during Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor and during the fall of Suharto.

The Washington Post this month reported that five high-ranking Kopassus officials, including chief Maj. Gen. Lodewijk Paulus, had visited Washington recently to lobby for the ban to be overturn.

Sagom confirmed that Lodewijk had visited Washington but said he was a part of a delegation led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that discussed only general military cooperation.

He said the military and the Ministry of Defense would never bow to pressure to try soldiers for alleged past human rights abuses.

“We have our own legal system. It is not possible for us to apply other countries’ laws against our own countrymen,” he said.

Andi Widjajanto, a military analyst from the University of Indonesia, said it was time the country started looking for other partners for military cooperation.

Aside from several European countries, Andi said Indonesia could also look to up-and-coming regional powers. “If Indonesia started designing a strategic partnership with China now, there would be a big potential for the two countries to form a powerful bloc in the next 10 years,” he said.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told Agence France-Presse that the United States was discussing a re-engagement with Kopassus that was “in accordance with our laws, our values and advances our interests.”

“Indonesia’s democratic reforms over the past decade have been pretty remarkable and its greatly improved human rights record has enabled us to engage more broadly,” he said.

 

The US has boycotted military cooperation with Kopassus over its alleged role in atrocities.