Skip to main content

U.S. to resume ties with once-notorious Indonesian military unit

From Andy Saputra, CNN
  • Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the decision in Indonesia
  • The special forces unit known as Kopassus was accused of human rights abuses
  • Human rights groups oppose the U.S. training of Kopassus
  • The Indonesian military welcomed the move

Jakarta, Indonesia (CNN) -- The United States will resume ties with the once-notorious Indonesian special forces after more than a decade-long ban, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in Jakarta Thursday.

The U.S. Defense Department lifted an overall ban on training the Indonesian military in 2005 but kept restrictions on the special forces known as the Kopassus, which had been accused of gross human rights violations during years of authoritarian rule.

Gates said the United States felt Indonesia had implemented sufficient reforms "to begin measured and gradual programs of security cooperation."

"This initial step will take place within the limit of U.S. law and does not signal any lessening of the importance we place on human rights and accountability," Gates said after meeting with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono Thursday.

"We consider this a very significant development in our military-to-military relationship and look forward to working even more closely ... in the years to come," he said in his statement to reporters.

Human rights groups have documented myriad abuses of the Kopassus, including the disappearance and abuse of government critics. Some have expressed concern over the resumption of military training.

Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch sent letters to Gates and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, opposing Defense Department assistance to the Indonesian military, especially Kopassus. It called a resumption of military ties between the two nations "a mistake" because of what it called a lack of reform and accountability in Indonesia.

"The U.S. wants to train members of the [Indonesian military], including Kopassus soldiers, in ways that improve their respect for human rights," wrote Brad Adams, executive director for Human Rights Watch in Asia.

"But training in international human rights and humanitarian law is only effective if there is the political will to reform and there are mechanisms to hold people accountable for misconduct," Adams wrote. "Unfortunately, human rights abusers continue to serve and be promoted through the ranks of the [military], notably in Kopassus."

Indonesian military officials welcomed Gates' announcement Thursday, saying that Indonesia would not tolerate human rights violations as it had 20 years ago.

"This is a positive start, we will prepare ourselves," said Djoko Suyanto, Indonesia's commander in chief.

Indonesia has transitioned into the world's third largest democracy. It held its first free parliamentary election in 1999 after decades of repressive rule under Gen. Suharto.