John Gittings – The son-in-law of President Suharto, Indonesia's ageing dictator, has persuaded a research centre at London University to set up a five-year training project for senior military officers.
Indonesia's appalling human rights record, particularly in East Timor, has made all aid and co-operation with the regime highly contentious. Major-General Prabowo Subianto, his father-in-law's possible heir apparent, commands the much-feared "red berets" unit. "They are basically a bunch of killers," the leading human rights activist and researcher on Indonesia, Carmel Budiardjo, said yesterday in London
The Centre for Defence Studies (CDS) at King's College is about to conclude an agreement with Jakarta to organise a summer school, entirely funded by the Indonesian government, for 50 senior officers covering a wide range of "military, defence and security issues".
The project's executive director, Chris Smith, said the proposal originated in Indonesia and that "much of the initial initiative came from Prabowo".
Gen Prabowo is head of Kopassus, the army's special forces, which is reputed to be the most ruthless of the special units used for Indonesian counter-insurgency operations. The general discussed the project during a private visit to Britain late last year.
The project, which also involves the University of Hull and the Royal Military College of Science, envisages a six-week seminar in Indonesia annually in the next five years. An unusual provision of the deal is that all communications between the British organisers and the Indonesian armed forces must be channelled through Colonel Ivar Hellberg, the British defence attache in Jakarta.
The CDS said the decision to go ahead was only taken after a great deal of internal discussion. "We realised it is likely to be a contentious programme", Dr Smith said yesterday. But the CDS had "full control" over the curriculum which would include courses on human rights and international law.
The decision to go ahead was condemned yesterday by Ms Budiardjo, founder of Tapol, the London-based Indonesian human rights campaign, as "a neat arrangement to give the Indonesian forces a human rights gloss". She said the project was "a new example of the cosy arrangement between the British government and the Indonesian armed forces".
Britain has been accused of supporting genocide in East Timor by the sale of British Hawk aircraft and other miitary equipment to the Indonesian regime. The military keeps a firm hand on all political activity in Indonesia. Last week the armed forces chief of staff General Feisal Tanj ung, warned that troops would shoot on sight anyone who "violated the law" in this year's elections.
The CDS was established at King's College in 1990 with a five-year core grant from the Ministry of Defence which has recently been renewed.
Gen Prabowo played an influential role in last year's army-inspired crackdown on the Democratic Party of Indonesia during which the party's headquarters were stormed and its chairwoman Megawati Sukarnoputri ousted from office.
He is married to Siti Hediyati, President Suharto's second daughter, who is deeply involved in transactions on the Jakarta stock market. Since none of the president's sons has pursued a military career, Gen Prabowo is regarded as a potential successor to President Suharto.
The CDS programme will include courses on contemporary security and South-east Asian issues.