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INDONESIA
White House ready to exploit hotel bombing
Next stop in the "war on terror"?

By Elizabeth Schulte | August 15, 2003 | Page 5

WHEN A car bomb exploded at the five-star Marriott hotel in Indonesia's capital of Jakarta August 5, Western officials rushed to say that Indonesia looked like the next stop for the "war on terrorism."

Officials said that the attack, which killed 10 people and injured about 150, was likely the work of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a militant Indonesian Islamic group that they claimed was linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

The attack came two days before the sentencing of JI member Amrozi bin Nurhasyim for his role in the October 12 bombing on the resort island of Bali last October that killed almost 200 people. Amrozi was sentenced to death by firing squad for "carrying out an act of terrorism"--buying the van and explosives used in Bali. He was depicted in the media as the "smiling terrorist," who gave the thumbs-up when he found out that he would be a martyr.

U.S. officials see JI, a group that calls for a pan-Islamic state in Southeast Asia, as a leading international terrorist threat. The group's operations officer, Hambali, has been named by U.S. officials as among the "top echelon" of al-Qaeda members wanted by the U.S. In a speech to Indonesia's legislature earlier this month, President Megawati Sukarnoputri said that homegrown terrorist groups had to be "cut off at the roots"--and she certainly has the backing of Washington for stepping up the "war on terror" rhetoric.

But for all the talk about an "Islamist threat," no one--in either Jakarta or Washington--seems eager to point the finger at a more obvious homegrown terrorist threat, with a long and bloody record: the Indonesian military.

Led by the dictator Gen. Suharto, the military ruled Indonesia with an iron fist for more than three decades until 1998, when a mass uprising drove Suharto out of power. Put on the defensive, the generals encouraged the rise of Islamist groups as a counterweight against the pro-democracy struggle and different regional independence movements. The new post-Suharto government was faced with constant political instability.

The army's notorious Kopassus counter-insurgency forces have been linked to terror gangs such as East Timor's anti-independence militias, the Laskar Jihad group and even JI itself. Kopassus is responsible for the disappearances of Indonesian activists during the struggle that overthrew Suharto.

More recently, two Kopassus members were convicted and jailed for a series of terrorist explosions in 2000, including a car bomb blast at the Jakarta Stock Exchange. The elite force has also been linked to last year's assassination of Papuan leader Theys Eluay. And Kopassus has also been implicated in the murder of two American teachers and one Indonesian employed by the U.S. mining company Freeport McMoRan last year--in a "freedom-fighter ambush" that was blamed on local tribespeople.

"I believe the military is involved in the [Bali] bombing," Jakarta human rights activist Bonar Naipospos told Asia Times Online last November, "but I fear the Bali police chief is in a difficult position, and they will not follow leads to high-ranking people."

Megawati was elected vice president and later president after Suharto's overthrow, largely because of her reputation as an opponent of the dictatorship. But while in office, she has worked with the many of the same generals who called the shots under the Suharto regime.

On August 5--the same week that the death sentence was imposed on the Bali bombing suspect--senior Indonesian Gen. Adam Damiri was sentenced to just three years in prison for "committing gross human rights violation in East Timor." In 1999, after East Timor's vote for independence from Indonesia, soldiers under Damiri's command went on a horrific rampage, massacring at least 1,000 people. Now some of these same goons are being put in charge of the "war on terrorism."

Meanwhile, the Washington-backed escalation of the terror war will be used as a cover for further military action in the northern province of Aceh, where the government declared martial law on May 19 and sent in troops to combat the Free Aceh Movement, which is calling for independence. Indonesian troops--led by Kopassus officers--are subjecting the Acehnese people to forced evacuations, harassment, beatings and looting.

With the terrorist attack at the Marriott, the Bush administration sees an opportunity to exploit--to restart military aid to Indonesia.

The U.S. was forced to suspend its decades of funding for the military in 1999, when the generals role in the East Timor rampage was uncovered. But the September 11, 2001, attacks gave the Pentagon the excuse it needed to persuade Congress to renew funding for the Indonesian military. The funding was again put on hold when a Senate committee demanded that Indonesian officials explain the killing of the two U.S. teachers.

But the Bush White House wasn't about to let human rights abuses get in the way. In mid-July, the administration said it would release the funds anyway. The latest attack will only provide more cover.

It's obvious that little has changed since the U.S. armed the Suharto regime--which slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people in coming to power while the U.S. looked the other way. The "war on terrorism" is only the latest excuse for turning the other way while Indonesia's military thugs carry out their work.

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