Never Again in Indonesia

Let's see if we have this straight about Washington's stance toward Indonesia's new leaders:

The US and other nations are ready to release billions in loans to build a civil society in post-Suharto Indonesia. Yet little will be done about one of the most uncivil acts of this decade - the "cleansing" of East Timor by elements of the Indonesian military and their crony militias.

Yes, the new president, Abdurrahman Wahid, and his Cabinet are an able lot, ready to revive a dormant economy in a nation of 210 million people, prevent Indonesia from splitting apart, pay back hefty loans to Japanese banks so Japan's financial system doesn't take a dive, and keep the strategic sea lanes open for United States warships.

Mr. Wahid might even demote a few generals for letting their troops run amok in East Timor, and conduct a cursory probe of what happened there to appease some critics and the UN.

But what kind of civil society can be built without holding Indonesia, or at least its military, to account for the massive slaughter?

This issue isn't a matter of principle over realism.

It is very real that hundreds, if not thousands, of East Timorese were murdered in the last three months on their way to independence and that some 400,000 people were displaced. The new nation still faces enough of a threat that the United Nations must put over 10,000 troops in East Timor.

And it is very real that Indonesia's ability to function as a civil nation requires that its people be made aware of this crime against humanity, that its military be cleaned up so it can credibly hold the nation together, and that its leaders work to prevent a repetition of such slaughter in another corner of a far-flung archipelago nation.

Here's how Wahid, a respected Muslim cleric, places the armed forces in his priorities: "We need them and also they know how to protect [society] ... some of our generals are good, some are bad like in any other society." The fact that he had to appoint six active or retired senior officers to his Cabinet shows much clout the military still has.

The US is withholding aid from Serbia for its cleansing of Kosovo. Why doesn't it send a financial signal through the International Monetary Fund that Wahid must deal with a hidden wrong that still corrodes its body politic? The fact that the US condoned Indonesia's invasion of East Timor in 1975 shouldn't be an issue here.

And let's not allow a semblance of democracy that masks a guilty military - or the Pentagon's interest in sea lanes - undercut US national interests in building a stable, peaceful democracy in this large Asian nation.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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