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Military take lessons in showing the right image

Sydney Morning Herald - March 6, 1997

Louise Williams, Jakarta – In an apparent effort to boost their international image, the Indonesian armed forces have asked three prestigious British universities to establish the country's first officers' training program to include human rights and international law. A Jakarta-based source said the Indonesian armed forces, the ABRI, were negotiating with the Centre for Defence Studies at King's College, London University, to run annual six-week seminars in Jakarta covering a wide range of military, defence and security issues, including human rights and international law.

The seminars, which will be paid for by the Indonesian Government, will be attended by about 50 of the country's most senior military officers, including officers of the elite special forces unit headed by President Soeharto's son-in-law, Major-General Prabowo Subianto. The original proposal is understood to have come from General Prabowo, whose unit is becoming increasingly involved in quelling riots and politically motivated civil unrest across the archipelago.

An ABRI spokesman said there were no specific human rights courses for Indonesian officers, but aspects of human rights were included in existing studies of the national ideology, pancasila, which emphasises unity in diversity.

The United States cancelled its direct training program for the Indonesian military in 1992 after Indonesian troops opened fire on a funeral in the East Timorese capital of Dili, killing scores of unarmed civilians.

However, the US still makes funding available for Indonesian officers to attend courses in the States. Australia continues to train Indonesian military officers in Australia, but has no specific human rights program for Indonesian conditions. Human rights activists in London have attacked the proposed new courses as "a neat arrangement to give the Indonesian forces a human rights gloss".The Guardian newspaper reported that Britain had been accused of supporting genocide in East Timor with the sale of British Hawk aircraft and other military equipment to the Indonesian military. Ms Carmel Budiardjo, head of a London-based Indonesian human rights group, attacked General Prabowo in particular, describing the general's unit as "basically a bunch of killers".

The relationship between the Indonesian special forces and the British military was strengthened last year during negotiations over the release of a group of Western and Indonesian researchers captured by separatists in the remote mountain forests of Irian Jaya.

General Prabowo's troops led an assault on the separatists when four months of negotiations failed, freeing all but two members of the scientific expedition, which included four Britons. Two Indonesian researchers were killed by their captors during the operation.

King's College is to establish the courses in co-operation with the University of Hull and the Royal Military College of Science.