Amanda Hodge, Nivell Rayda – Indonesia says the US has undertaken to lift the remaining restrictions on engagement with Indonesia's Kopassus special forces, ending a 19-year ban on the unit linked to civilian killings and human rights abuses in West Papua, Aceh and East Timor.
Former Indonesian military commander Moeldoko, now chief of staff to President Joko Widodo, said US ambassador Joseph Donovan had confirmed on Monday during a meeting at the presidential palace that the US would "gradually lift" the last restrictions on the military unit.
This follows a request last month from Defence Minister Ryacudu Ryamizard to his US counterpart Jim Mattis to end the ban, imposed in 1999, on US engagement with the unit.
Successive Indonesian governments have lobbied for the ban to be lifted, but have had only partial success despite support from the Pentagon. Former president Barack Obama in 2010 lifted the outright ban on US military contact with Kopassus, although its 6000 members are still banned from travelling to the US or training with US forces.
In a statement issued after Monday's meeting, General Moeldoko said Mr Donovan had emphasised the importance of co-operation between the two armed forces in preserving stability in the Asia-Pacific region and said the US intended to "reopen the possibility of a military training cooperation, (beginning) with Kopassus".
But the US embassy in Jakarta appeared reluctant to confirm General Moeldoko's statement yesterday, or give a time line for when US training of Kopassus might resume.
Instead an embassy spokesman said: "As Secretary Mattis' trip to Indonesia demonstrated, we are committed to deepening our defence co-operation with Indonesia and are seeking opportunities for further engagement in various areas. All engagement activities are conducted in accordance with US law.
"We support Indonesia's efforts to promote human rights and the rule of law, and we continue to discuss the importance of accountability for past abuses."
The move would be in line with the unveiling last month of a shift in US national security focus from counter-terrorism to contain the rising power of China and Russia.
American forces are prevented under the "Leahy Law" from providing assistance or training to units known to have engaged in human rights abuses, unless they have addressed the abuses and held those responsible to account.
Mr Mattis said last month he understood Kopassus had turned a corner and removed those from the unit believed responsible for a crackdown on student activists under the Suharto regime, as well as the deaths of independence and secessionist activists in East Timor, Aceh and Papua.
Australia also cut ties with Kopassus after its members fired on Australian soldiers sent to East Timor in the lead-up to independence in 2002. Its ban also cited links between Kopassus and the disappearance and killings of political activists and civilians.
Canberra lifted the restrictions about a decade ago following a series of deadly bomb attacks in Bali and on the Australian embassy in Jakarta, rationalising that improving the skills of Kopassus was in Australia's interest and could save Australian lives.
Amnesty International Indonesia spokesman Usman Hamid said the military had not fulfilled its promise to bring to justice high-ranking officers responsible for kidnapping and murder in Papua, East Timor and Aceh.
He also said those accused of human rights violations continued to enjoyed strategic positions within the military and in the Joko administration.