March 14, 2006

Rice Urges Indonesian Military Reform

By Sue Pleming

JAKARTA (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Indonesia on Wednesday to make greater efforts to reform its armed forces, echoing calls from critics of Washington's decision to restore military ties last year.

In an address to Indonesia's World Affairs Council, Rice stressed that a "reformed and effective" Indonesian military was in the interests of everyone in the region.

"We look for continued progress toward greater accountability and complete reform," she said in prepared remarks at the end of a two-day visit to the world's most populous Muslim nation.

"The greatest challenges now emerge more within states than between them and cannot be met by any one nation alone," said Rice, who promised U.S. help to reform the military.

Security was tight at the speech venue where guests had been asked to arrive two hours in advance to clear various checks.

Journalists were screened at least three times, a sniffer dog checked them and their bags and they were made to empty out their pockets and bags.

The United States restored military ties with Indonesia last November and has come under strong criticism from some human rights groups who believe the move was premature and motivated more by wanting to get greater anti-terrorism cooperation than actual reforms by the military.

"Some U.S. military officers have told Human Rights Watch that providing aid without reform is wrongheaded," said Lisa Misol of New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The Bush administration's resumption of military ties with Indonesia includes financial aid to modernize the military and help with counter-terrorism, maritime security and disaster relief.

Washington cut back military ties after Indonesian troops fired on demonstrators in East Timor in 1991, killing dozens, when the tiny territory was ruled by Jakarta.

Ties were then severed after pro-Jakarta militias backed by elements in the military sacked East Timor in 1999 when the territory voted for independence. The United Nations estimates the militias killed around 1,000 Timorese.


Jakarta is expected to seek military aid for weapons purchases and for training from Washington, a move groups like Human Rights Watch strongly oppose. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a former general, received training in the United States.

Rice also urged Indonesia to pay greater attention to maritime security and said criminals were exploiting weaknesses and using the region's waterways to smuggle drugs, weapons and people.

The top U.S. diplomat's two-day trip to Indonesia was aimed at cementing growing ties between the United States and a moderate Islamic country that Washington hopes will wield some influence in a region where anti-American sentiment is rising.

Rice has been at pains during her trip to Jakarta to praise the country's recent democratic reforms, culminating in elections in September 2004. She also reached out to Muslims, visiting an Islamic school under heavy security on Tuesday.

The visit to Indonesia is the second leg of a nine-day trip that started in Chile for the inauguration of that country's first woman president and ends with a three-day visit to another close ally, Australia.