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US House condemns Indonesian rights abuses

Reuters - June 10, 1997

Washington – The US House of Representatives on Tuesday unanimously approved an amendment condemning human rights abuses committed by Indonesia in the former Portuguese colony of East Timor.

"This will send a strong and clear message to the Indonesian government that Congress will not tolerate the continued human rights abuses of the people of East Timor," said Representative Patrick Kennedy, the Rhode Island Democrat who introduced the amendment to the Foreign Policy Reform Act.

Kennedy said Tuesday's unanimous vote would "serve as a launching point for further action against Indonesia."

Kennedy also introduced a bill calling for the elimination of military assistance and training funds to Indonesia unless human rights violations are halted, which may come to the House floor for a vote later this month.

Indonesia hit out at the Kennedy legislation on Friday, dropping its participation in an American military training programme and the scheduled purchase of nine US-made F-16 warplanes.

Foreign Minister Ali Alatas told a news conference Kennedy's criticism was "wholly unjustified."

"It was clear they were feeling defensive," Kennedy said in remarks on the House floor. "They wanted to get the planes out of the way before this Congress expressed its strong opinion on their human rights abuses."

Kennedy also sent a letter to Indonesian President Suharto, requesting a meeting to "discuss my concerns regarding the situation in East Timor and in Indonesia."

Jakarta has come under fire from some US senators and congressmen, particularly over its human rights record and East Timor, the former Portuguese colony that Indonesia occupied in 1975 and annexed the following year.

The United States barred Indonesia from participating in the military training programme called IMET in 1992 after security forces fired into demonstrating mourners in the East Timor capital of Dili in 1991. Witnesses said up to 200 people died. The programme allows senior officers to be trained in the United States.

In late 1995, Washington reinstated Indonesia's participation in the programme, which covers about 20 senior officers annually at a cost of $600,000.

[Poster's Note: While an important step, it should be noted that the amendment as passed is "Sense of the Congress" and would not be binding if the accompnaying bill becomes law. There is still much work to do in the US Congress. As noted in the VOA report (posted earlier), amendment was itself amended to includes a provision condemning so-called "seperatist" violence. The justification for this was the since retracted Human Rights Watch report concerning civilian casualties alleged to have been inflicted by Falintil. A fuller report from ETAN will follow soon, along with the exact language of the amendments and the debate on the House floor when they are available. John]