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US to Resume Sales of Lethal Weapons to Indonesia

November 23, 2005

The United States has decided to resume the sale of lethal military hardware to Indonesia. The State Department announced Tuesday that in the interest of U.S. national security it has exercised its authority under a law passed earlier this month to waive conditions on U.S. military relations with Indonesia.

The State Department statement says "Indonesia has made significant progress in advancing its democratic institutions and practices in a relatively short time." As a result, the department has decided to waive conditions placed on the sale of lethal military equipment to Indonesia and on U.S. financing of Indonesian military purchases.

A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, says there is no specific sale planned. And he noted that the official statement says U.S. military exports to Indonesia will focus on modernizing the country's military and providing further incentives for reform, as well as pursuing common security objectives, including counterterrorism, maritime security and disaster relief. The statement also says U.S. military aid to Indonesia "will continue to be guided by Indonesia's progress on democratic reform and accountability." And it says the Bush Administration remains committed to pursuing accountability for past human rights abuses.

Congress maintained the restrictions on military sales to Indonesia in the 2006 Foreign Operations Act in an effort to continue to pressure the country to improve civilian control of its military and to hold soldiers accountable for human rights abuses in East Timor and elsewhere. But the law also gave the secretary of state the authority to either confirm that the conditions have been met, or to waive the restrictions if she determines it is in the national security interest of the United States. The statement issued Tuesday says her under-secretary for political affairs, Nicholas Burns, issued the wavier while she was traveling outside the country earlier this week.

This is the third time this year that the State Department has expanded U.S. military relations with Indonesia. It allowed the resumption of training and educational exchanges between the U.S. and Indonesian militaries in February, and approved renewed sales of non-lethal military equipment to Indonesia in May.

"Also in May, the U.S. and Indonesian presidents promised to work toward re-establishing normal military relations between their countries when they met in Washington," he said.

A leading U.S. human rights group concerned with Indonesian issues criticized the wavier late Tuesday. Karen Orenstein is the national coordinator of the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network. "The East Timor and Indonesia Action condemns in the strongest term possible the issuance of this national security wavier. This is just a clear abuse of executive power. You can't press for military reform and human rights and accountability when you have no leverage to do so. We've just given away the store," he said.

At the Indonesian Embassy in Washington, the charge d'affaires, Andri Hadi, was pleased with the announcement. "We welcome that initiative because it is very important for us to have defense equipment from the United States," he said.

Mr. Hadi says Indonesia's top priority is to buy parts for its F-16 fighter jets, some of which can not fly due to mechanical problems. And he says the easing of restrictions on U.S.-Indonesian military sales and exchanges will provide more opportunities for the United States to press for human rights improvements.

"It also gives the opportunity for (the) U.S. government to have frank and mutual dialogue on the human rights issues, so it doesn't mean the U.S. lost its leverage on Indonesia because human rights is not (just a) U.S. concern, but also our own concern," he said.

The U.S. secretaries of state and defense had urged Congress not to re-impose the conditions on military relations with Indonesia this year. Officials say the best way to improve the Indonesian military's respect for human rights is to be involved in its modernization process. There was also concern that Indonesia might turn to other countries, such as Russia and China, if the United States continued to limit its military dealings with the country.

Congress was divided on the issue, with the House of Representatives voting to remove the restrictions, while the Senate voted to maintain them. The Senate's view was adopted as part of a broader compromise that enabled the law to be passed.

Tuesday's State Department statement notes that Indonesia is the world's most populous mostly Muslim nation, and praises the country as "a voice of moderation in the Islamic world." It also says Indonesia "plays a key role in guaranteeing security in the strategic sea lanes in Asia."

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