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US to resume ties with Indonesia's special forces

world Updated: Jul 22, 2010 16:27 IST
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The United States announced on Thursday it will resume cooperation with Indonesia's special forces after ties were severed more than a decade ago over alleged human rights abuses by the commando unit.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates made the announcement after meeting with Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Thursday in the capital Jakarta. Indonesia had said it wanted the United States to reconsider resuming joint training. The decision will be seen as a victory for the Indonesian military, which has said it made great strides in improving its human rights record.

Indonesia's special forces were accused of major abuses through the 1990s in the provinces of Papua and Aceh and the former Indonesian province of East Timor, which has since become independent.

The US cut ties with the special forces under a 1997 law which banned US training for foreign military units accused of human rights violations. The ban can be lifted if there have been substantial measures to bring culprits to justice.

"I was pleased to be able to tell the president that as a result of Indonesian military reform over the past decade ... and recent actions taken by the Ministry of Defense to address human rights issues, the United States will begin measured and gradual programs of security cooperation activities with the Indonesian Army Special Forces," Gates said at a press conference.

"This initial step will take place within the limit of US law and does not signal any lessening of the importance we place on human rights and accountability," he added.

Washington severed all ties with the Indonesian military in 1999 after troops rampaged through East Timor when it voted to secede from Indonesia. The US lifted that overall ban in 2005, but kept its restrictions against the special forces known as Kopassus under the 1997 law.

"Our ability to expand after this initial step will depend on continued implementation of reforms with Kopassus and TNI as a whole," Gates said.

"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." Gates didn't elaborate on the specifics of the resumed cooperation, and took no questions from journalists. International rights groups have said members of Kopassus were linked to the disappearance of student activists in 1997 and 1998 and were never held accountable.