How US trained butchers of Timor

September 19, 1999 | The Observer [London]

by Ed Vulliamy in New York and Antony Barnett

Indonesian military forces linked to the carnage in East Timor were trained in the United States under a covert programme sponsored by the Clinton Administration which continued until last year.

The Observer can also disclose that the Government has spent about ?1 million in training more than 50 members of the Indonesian military in Britain since it came to power.

Human rights campaigners claim a number of these are likely to have links with those complicit in the attrocities.

The US programme, codenamed ‘Iron Balance’, was hidden from legislators and the public when Congress curbed the official schooling of Indonesia’s army after a massacre in 1991. Principal among the units that continued to be trained was the Kopassus – an elite force with a bloody history – which was more rigorously trained by the US than any other Indonesian unit, according to Pentagon documents passed to The Observer last week.

Kopassus was built up with American expertise despite US awareness of its role in the genocide of about 200,000 people in the years after the invasion of East Timor in 1975, and in a string of massacres and disappearances since the bloodbath. Amnesty International describes Kopassus as ‘responsible for some of the worst human rights violations in Indonesia’s history’.

The Pentagon documents – obtained by the US-based East Timor Action Network and Illinois congressman Lane Evans – detail every exercise in the covert training programme, conducted under a Pentagon project called JCET (Joint Combined Education and Training). They show the training was in military expertise that could only be used internally against civilians, such as urban guerrilla warfare, surveillance, counter-intelligence, sniper marksmanship and ‘psychological operations’.

Specific commanders trained under the US programme have been tied to the current violence and to some of the worst massacres of the past 20 years, including the slaughter at Kraras in 1983 and at Santa Cruz in 1991. The US-trained commanders include the son-in-law of the late dictator General Suharto, Prabowo Subianto, and his mentor, General Kiki Syahnakri – the man appointed last week by the so-called ‘reform’ government as commissioner for martial law in East Timor.

The secret programme unveiled in the document became the focus for military training when above-board aid was curtailed by Congress after the Santa Cruz massacre. Congress had stepped in after up to 270 peaceful protesters – many of them schoolchildren – were murdered by Kopassus shock troops as they paraded through Dili.

American sponsorship of the Indonesian regime began as a matter of Cold War ideology, in the wake of defeat in Vietnam. The left-wing movement in East Timor was feared by Jakarta and seen by the US as an echo of those in southern Africa and of Salvador Allende’s government in Chile. Jakarta’s harassment of the Timor government and the invasion of 1975 were duly encouraged by the United States.

The training of Indonesia’s officer corps peaked during the mid-Eighties. In 1990 a former official at the US Embassy in Jakarta cabled the State Department to say US sponsorship had been ‘a big help to the (Indonesian) army. They probably killed a lot of people and I probably have a lot of blood on my hands’.

But the horror of Santa Cruz in 1991, when trucks were seen dumping bodies in the sea, was too much. The US decided that the training, while still available, should be paid for by the recipient nation – in other words, it would no longer be military aid. The covert programme then became the main means of training Indonesia’s military – still at the American taxpayers’ expense.

In an undated prospectus, the Pentagon says the prime mission was to ‘to develop, organise, equip, train, advise and direct indigenous militaries’. The scale was small, to offer concentrated ‘significant special training’ which would create ‘self-sufficient small units’. In 1996, for instance, 10 exercises involved 376 US personnel and 838 Indonesians or ‘loyal’ Timorese.

Britain also made a significant contribution to Indonesia’s military training. The Observer has established that, since May 1997, 24 senior members of Indonesia’s forces have been trained in UK military colleges. This included training in running military units efficiently and how to used technical equipment like guided missiles. In addition, 29 Indonesian officers have studied at non-military establishments.

Revelations of the extent to which Labour has used taxpayers’ money to aid the Indonesian military has angered many MPs, who claim it makes a mockery of Foreign Secretary Robin Cook’s ‘ethical foreign policy’. In the last four years of the Tory Government, only one Indonesian soldier was trained in the UK.

Ann Clwyd, the Labour chair of the all-party group on human rights, has previously shown that Indonesian military trained here have subsequently committed atrocities. She said: ‘It is simply not acceptable that we have been training these people. We know the police, the army, the militia are all interlinked. How many of those trained by this Government are now involved in the East Timor operation?’

Last week both America and Australia suspended military co-operation with Indonesia.

Funding for the military training would have been made available by the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence through the Defence Military Assistance Fund. Earlier this year Defence Minister Doug Henderson admitted that training one Indonesian navy officer at the Joint Service Command and Staff College and another on the International Principal Warfare Course at HMS Dryad cost the Government ?170,000.

Many of the Indonesian officers were trained at the Royal Military College at Shrivenham, Oxfordshire, as part of a ‘ private and commercial initiative’ by Cranfield University. As well as courses on managing army units, the training includes map-making and electronics.

In the past two years the Foreign Office has also given ?200,000 to eight Indonesian high-flyers through its Chevening scholarship programme. This included two policemen, two from the army and two from the navy. On Friday, the Indonesian authorities stopped three servicemen taking up their scholarships.

Both the Ministry of Defence and Foreign Office defend the training given as ‘constructive engagement’. A spokesman for the MoD said: ‘It is a way of ensuring professionalism in foreign armies. It encourages higher standards, good governance and greater respect for human rights.’

The Foreign Office points out that many of the Indonesian officers on non-military courses are studying subjects such as international law and human rights.

Last summer seven members of Kopassus finished a post-graduate course in defence studies at Hull University. The Ministry of Defence arranged the deal after liaising with General Prabowo. Although the course was initiated before the general election, it started after Labour’s victory. George Robertson, then Defence Secretary, was happy for it to continue. Despite Prabowo’s links to atrocities in East Timor, Robertson once described him as ‘enlightened’.

The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, meanwhile, says in today’s Observer that ‘there is a mopping-up operation to be done in Britain on the myths that have mushroomed among commentators who have only discovered the plight of East Timor in the last fortnight’. He denies that Britain has ‘armed Indonesia to the teeth’, or provided weapons to the militias, and says that Britain has not given fresh subsidies to buy Hawk trainers.

Amnesty International’s East Timor country specialist, Deborah Sklar, traces the regime’s ‘over-reliance on thuggish military operations’ as being due to the demands of the foreign investment community and even from the World Bank.

She cites a blueprint called The East Asian Miracle, written by US Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, in which he urges governments to ‘insulate’ themselves from ‘pluralist pressures’ and to suppress trade unions. This, she says, became a primary Kopassus role during the years of training by the United States.

‘If the US,’ says Sklar, ‘has supplied to the Indonesians equipment that has been concerned in the perpetration of human rights abuses, then that is an outrage.’

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