Tales From The South Pacific
Dispatches From The Edge
U.S. Sec. Of State Condoleeza Rice’s recent visit to Jakarta was the concluding act in the Bush Administration’s five-year drive to whitewash the Indonesian military’s sordid past, green light Indonesia’s occupation of West Papua, and forge another link in Washington’s plan to ring China with U.S. military bases and allies.
Shortly after the 2001 inauguration, then Assistant Sec. of Defense and former ambassador to Indonesia, Paul Wolfowitz, began a campaign to dismantle U.S. restrictions on military aid to the Tentara Nasional Indonesia, or “TNI” as the armed forces are known. The aid was cut in 1999, following the TNI’s rampage in East Timor that killed thousands of civilians, forced 250,000 into concentration camps in West Timor, and destroyed 70 percent of tiny country’s infrastructure.
Not a single TNI officer has served a day in jail for those massacres, and the only civilian convicted of any crimes—the former governor of East Timor—had his sentence overturned by the Indonesian Supreme Court.
Wolfowitz argued that “re-engaging” with the TNI would make the military more sensitive to human rights. “More contact with the West and the United States and moving them in a positive direction is important both to support democracy and support the fight against terrorism,” he said.
But the Indonesian military’s “worst abuses,” counters Ed McWilliams, former State Department political counselor in the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, “took place when we (the U.S.) were most engaged.”
The 9/11 attacks gave the White House the opportunity to undermine the military aid embargo in the name of fighting terrorism, even though the TNI has been implicated in the wide spread use of terrorism against its political opponents.
In 2001, several members of Kopassus, the most notorious unit in the TNI, murdered Papuan independence leader, Theys Eluy, after he attended an army dinner. In an effort to destabilize the regime of President Abdurrahman Wahid, the military quietly encouraged the right-wing Muslim organization, Laskar Jihad, to attack Christians in Ambon, Maluku and Central Sulawesi islands. And in 2004, the military and the Indonesian State Intelligence Agency were implicated in the poisoning death of human rights lawyer Munir Said Thalib.
The one incident that caused the TNI trouble with the U.S. Congress, however, involved accusations that it had a role in the 2002 murder of two American teachers and an Indonesian colleague near the huge Freeport McMoRan gold and copper mine in West Papua.
The TNI claimed the attack was engineered by the Free Papua Movement (OPM), a group resisting Indonesia’s 1969 unilateral seizure of West Papua.
But the OPM vigorously denied any involvement in the ambush, and human rights groups and the local police instead implicated Kopassus.
A police report argued that the OPM “never attacks white people,” and found that the teachers were killed with an M-16, the TNI’s basic weapon. The OPM is generally armed with bows and arrows. Based on the investigation of the incident, then Police Chief of West Papua concluded that the TNI was behind the ambush.
According to a Washington Post story, Australian intelligence intercepted phone calls from Indonesia’s then Commander-in-Chief, Endriartono Sutarto, discussing carrying out the ambush as a way to discredit the OPM and get the U.S. to declare it a “terrorist” organization.
The TNI had another motive as well. From 1998 to 2004, Freeport paid out $20 million to the TNI to “protect” the company from growing anger by locals at environmental destruction caused by the company’s Gasberg Mine. The mine generates 700,000 tons of waste daily, and has covered 90 square miles with tailings. Under pressure from the U.S. Justice Department and the Security and Exchange Commission, however, Freeport cut back on the payments. The suspicion is that the “ambush” was blackmail by the TNI: pay up or bad things happen.
Attorney General John Ashcroft and the FBI soon rode to Wolfowitz and Rice’s rescue, indicting self-described OPM “commander” Anthonius Wamang for the attack, even though the OPM says Wamang works for Kopassus. This past January, the FBI helped arrest Wamang and 11 other civilians, including a priest, a teenager and several farmers, for the murders.
The arrests allowed the Bush Administration to declare Indonesia a “strategic partner,” and waive congressional restrictions on military aid. The latter will increase six-fold by 2007. Meanwhile, the TNI has poured troops and police into West Papua to crush demonstrations against Freeport and smother growing sentiment for an independent West Papua.
“West Papua has long been neglected by the international community,” says Karen Orenstein of the East Timor and Indonesian Action Network. “Secretary Rice should…press Jakarta to heed calls from West Papua for demilitarization and a fair share of the income from its resources, and demand that Indonesia fully open West Papua to the outside world.”
Australia’s close ties to the Bush Administration are little like taking up with Tony Soprano: no matter how much you do for the big guy, you’re going to get whacked in the end.
First, in the teeth of widespread opposition, John Howard’s conservative government sent 900 troops to Iraq, and coughed up $1.2 billion to support them. A recent poll by Hawker Britton found that almost two-thirds of the public wants the troops to leave in the next few months.
Second, the Howard government agreed to join the U.S, anti-ballistic missile system, which angers its largest trading partner. Exports to China are what keeps Australia’s economy in the black.
Third, Howard signed a free trade agreement with the U.S. which will put a dent in Australia’s farm industry, and place the country’s financial services at a distinct disadvantage to its far larger and wealthier U.S. counterpart.
So do the Aussies get a hug and a kiss?
The Iraqi government recently blacklisted the Australian Wheat Board Ltd (AWB) because a UN investigation implicated the latter in a bribes-for-wheat scheme with the Saddam Hussein regime. The ban deep-sixed a one million ton deal, and dropped AWB’s shares eight percent on the Australian Stock Exchange. Similar bribes by Turkish and Jordanian companies were ignored, as was embargo busting by U.S. oil companies.
According to the Financial Times, one source close to the AWB charges that Iraq imposed the ban at the urging of U.S. wheat interests. “The U.S. is going to attempt to secure maximum commercial advantage” from the AWB ban, he said, adding, “so much for the coalition of the willing.”
Then Rice showed up in Canberra to denounce China for human rights violations, military spending, and its currency and intellectual property rights policies. She called China a “negative force” in the Pacific. Asked if China should see Rice’s comments as cause for concern, one unnamed State Department official replied, “I think we certainly hope so.”
Aussie Foreign Minister Alexander Downer hurriedly distanced himself from Rice’s rhetoric, and “welcomed China’s constructive engagement in the region,” and making it clear that Australia does not “support a policy of containment of China. We don’t think that is going to a be productive or constructive policy at all.”
Lie down with dogs….
Kiwi pluck. The New Zealand union “Unite” has launched an organizing drive at Starbucks and McDonalds, and has launched a global email campaign to flood the two giant corporations with protest messages. Go to: laborstart.org/cgi-bin/solidarityforever/show_campaign.cgi?c=80
New Zealand today, tomorrow….