U.S. "strongly supports" Indonesia's reforms
Indonesia "is in the midst of a very remarkable transition to greater democracy after decades of authoritarian rule," Under Secretary of State Thomas Pickering said in a March 3 press conference in Jakarta.
"The United States strongly supports Indonesia's efforts at political and economic reform," and "supports Indonesia's territorial integrity," Pickering said. "It is not in favor of dividing up Indonesia."
"The United States recognizes the value of having Indonesia a stable and prosperous democracy," Pickering told reporters. Indonesia, he said, as "the world's third largest democracy and the largest Muslim country in the world," is important both on the world stage and regionally.
U.S.-Indonesian bilateral relations, Pickering said, "are strong and improving in the context of continued consolidation of democracy here, ongoing reform, credible Indonesian efforts to improve the human rights situation, and constructive cooperation between Indonesia and the United Nations and others to resolve the ongoing refugee crisis in West Timor."
Following is a transcript of the press conference:
UNDER SECRETARY THOMAS PICKERING
ON-THE-RECORD PRESS CONFERENCE
MARCH 3, 2000
U.S. EMBASSY JAKARTA
Amb. Pickering: I'll open with just a few brief remarks. First, I was pleased to be here and have an opportunity during the course of my visit to meet with President Abdurrahman Wahid, with the Vice President, with the Chairman of the People's Consultative Assembly (the MPR), the Chairman of the People's Consultative Council (the DPR), with the Coordinating Minister for Security questions, with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and, indeed, with a number of others. If you would like details of my schedule, the Press Office will give them to you.
I found that Indonesia is in the midst of a very remarkable transition to greater democracy after decades of authoritarian rule. The United States strongly supports Indonesia's efforts at political and economic reform. The United States, of course, supports Indonesia's territorial integrity. It is not in favor of dividing up Indonesia. The United States recognizes the value of having Indonesia a stable and prosperous democracy.
Secretary Albright has designated Indonesia as one of four priority emerging democracies in the world. President Wahid met with President Clinton in Washington last November, shortly after he was elected. This was followed by a number of cabinet level visits in both directions, which have put the spotlight on the importance of each nation to the other.
U.S. - Indonesian bilateral relations are strong and improving in the context of continued consolidation of democracy here, ongoing reform, credible Indonesian efforts to improve the human rights situation, and constructive cooperation between Indonesia and the United Nations and others to resolve the ongoing refugee crisis in West Timor.
It's important to remember that the government of President Gus Dur and Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri is the first government to be democratically elected in Indonesia in over four decades. It enjoys legitimacy. The United States is working closely with this government to help Indonesia's democratic transition. The new government faces many challenges, as the effort is made to promote positive change in Indonesia, achieve national reconciliation, improve respect for human rights, establish civilian control over the military, that has played an integral role in the past in both politics and security as well as the economy. This has been an interesting and important week for relations with the military here in Indonesia, as you all know.
Finally, in reforming the political and economic institutions, in speeding up economic recovery in many other areas in which the government faces, we believe the government is well-positioned to deal with these issues, which are critical to Indonesia's future stability and we commend the president and the Indonesian people for the remarkable advances that they have already achieved in a very short time.
My talks covered almost all of these questions and were, from my point of view, extremely informative and very valuable for me personally, and I hope for the government of the United States in Washington.
Q: What inputs or suggestions have their been from the U.S. government for resolving the situation in Aceh?
Amb. Pickering: We had a good opportunity to review our view of the Aceh issue with the government. There was, in our view time, an open window so to speak, for the possibility of a settlement. I made clear, as I did just a moment ago in my opening remarks, to the government that we believe that Indonesia's territorial integrity should be preserved in any settlement, but that we also believe that the door was open to listen to and hear the concerns of leaders of the people in Aceh and to work ardently to attempt to resolve those issues, including setting up in the government a coordinating arrangement to bring together all of the government's senior leaders dealing with this process to begin an open process of finding a way to help resolve the difficulties; perhaps through discussions and dialogue and negotiation. I also complimented the government on the steps that I understand are being taken to deal with problems that have been raised in connection with the human rights violations in Aceh.
Q: Follow-up question. Do you regard the current police and military operations in Aceh as assisting the process of finding a peaceful solution and what did you say to the President on that situation?
Amb. Pickering: I think it's an important question. It came up only in the context that, in a number of my conversations, and I'm not sure if I can detail what percent to each individual at any particular time. The United States recognizes, as I believe most people who follow these issues recognize, that a military solution is not a possible way to end conflicts of this type. And we have looked broadly around the world at conflicts of these types as not being amenable to that sort of activity. We have also always asked that the use of military and police forces in any conflict observe all of the normal rules of international conduct with respect to human rights in these kinds of situations.
Q: Proceeding on the assumption that military and police forces do respect human rights, you do not have any problems with the government's decision to use a high level of force against the guerrilla action?
Amb. Pickering: I think that we did not either express, or should express, a point of view with respect to particular tactics or use of force. We don't believe that the problem can be resolved, as I said, by the use of military force. We believe the problem must be resolved through the process of dialogue, discussion and negotiation, and so on.
Q: It seemed in today's local media that the way that it happened is that you suggested that a coordinating council should be set up, and that it was set up. Is that the way it went or, is Washington running Jakarta's Aceh policy?
Amb. Pickering: I don't believe so and I believe that it came up in the discussions but I think that the remarks attributed to the President, which I assume he did make to the press directly, are his own and I believe are an accurate reflection of the outcome of the conversation that we had, but I wouldn't want to go into the details. And I assure you, that from my conversations with the President that, quite the contrary, Aceh policy is very much in the hands of the President of Indonesia.
Q: All aspects of Aceh policy are very much in the hands of the President?
Amb. Pickering: I certainly believe Aceh policy is, so I hope that all aspects are.
Q: Did you discuss with your interlocutors here any possibility of military re-engagement from the U.S. military with the Indonesian military forces?
Amb. Pickering: I would say a couple of things in connection with that. First and foremost, as you know, the United States during the transition period in Indonesia had several officers in training in the United States. At the end of the transition period, the training that was suspended was re-started. They are now completing their training, there are less than a handful of officers in that category. Subsequently, for future funding in support of United States military activities with Indonesia, there are a series of requirements that have to be established before the funding can actually be carried out. Those include such things as dealing with accountability for what happened in Timor. These are well known to the Indonesian government and obviously we discussed with the Indonesian government in a number of ways how these particular questions can be dealt with. So, that would be preliminary to beginning further military cooperation and would need to be done prior to that. We didn't discuss in any detail the resumption of military cooperation but we did discuss, obviously, the need to deal with these requirements, many of which meet important human rights goals.
Amb. Gelbard: Just to add a clarification regarding the students who went back to school. These were students in Master's degree programs studying language, as opposed to any kind of military programs. Second, this was done only after extensive congressional consultations.
Q: What are the United States' views? There seems to be a bit of a paradox. Some people are saying you have to have trials immediately, but they want trials in human rights courts that do not yet exist and the legislation is still being prepared. Whereas, people do not appear to be satisfied with the transparency of military tribunals here, particularly from the past. What is your view about whether to keep the momentum going and try these people in the current facilities or to wait for the proper human rights courts, which might be more transparent, to be up and running?
Amb. Pickering: The United States does not have a particular prescription to apply to Indonesia, but we would expect that whatever trials that took place, take place on the basis of equitability and fairness, and met international standards for the kinds of trials that obviously we hope would be pursued by any country where there were concerns about human rights violations and where people were brought up on charges. So we would expect that international standards would be met. We would hope that Indonesia would find a way to do so and we encourage the government to do so.
Q: Following up your comments about there not being a military solution in Aceh. From the information you gathered while you've been here, do you have any concerns about the tactics which the army has been using in Aceh? Do you have any indications that they are acting in the same way that they have in the past in dealing with the incidents?
Amb. Pickering: I think the fact that the prior question related to the question of human rights violations in Aceh raises the question clearly. And it is something, obviously, we're concerned about, and spoke to the government about and the government has indicated it intends to proceed to deal with these. And we would hope, obviously, it would take all the necessary steps to prevent the commission of any further abuses.
Q: On the economy. The stock market was wobbling over recent times. IBRA does not seem to be performing so as to meet any of its targets by the end of this financial year, that it would have like to. Are you concerned that maybe the economic reform is perhaps wobbling and not quite on track?
Amb. Pickering: We had good discussion and I intend in my next meeting to have a further discussion of economic questions and where things are going. I was pleased by the fact that the government, in my view, appears to be determined to move ahead on a lot of fronts. I was also, obviously, as you have been, concerned by the depth of the problem - if I could put it that way -- and by the needs, clearly, to try to focus efforts and prioritize ways of dealing with this. Some of the things that we talked about are dealing with further efforts to improve economic performance. And others were focused on the important question of encouraging investors to move into this country. And the two are directly linked. And, obviously, it is through further investment that changes in policies, and changes in execution of existing policies for economic performance, can be translated into real economic growth in the days ahead. And we are concerned, as many are, by the problems of unemployment, by the lack of growth in the economy, and by the need to continue to make changes. We are also concerned by the need to try and meet, as much as possible, IMF performance goals as soon as possible. So there are a host of economic issues, not all of which did I focus on in the kind of detail implied in your question. But I did focus on the need generally to try and find ways to continue to improve economic performance, which along with political change in our view, represent the two greatest needs for the future of Indonesia.
Q: So essentially you're saying they are not moving ahead fast enough?
Amb. Pickering: I think that we all believe they could move ahead faster. We also understand that there are limitations in a government which is four months old, in trying to make all changes possible immediately. And that is obviously something we all recognize is not feasible. So I think that rather than giving the government a numerical scorecard, I would say we did everything we could to encourage the continuation of efforts along the lines they have chosen to go. We applaud the decisions that they have made to move in that direction and we urge, obviously, greater progress everywhere they can make it.
Q: Did or will Freeport come up in your discussions, while you are here and, if so, what will be the substance of those discussions?
Amb. Pickering: It was brought up by a number of people and it came up in the context of my encouraging a climate for investors, particularly making clear the conditions: that there be predictability in the legal system of the country for investors, that the climate continue to be good, that you have to deal with your existing investors as well as the new investors on a degree of openness and fairness and justice, respect for commitments made that will continue to encourage that to happen.
Q: And Freeport was discussed in the context that you were urging them basically to honor existing contracts?
AMB Pickering: We were honoring existing contracts, but we also said that we would urge that existing contracts be honored sincerely and completely on both sides. That we would not take a view that only governments were obliged to honor contracts.
Q: About the Freeport company, there are several issues lately these days about investigations toward the violation of human rights in Freeport. Some people said that there were investigations and they found no violation of human rights in Irian Jaya by Freeport, but some others said that those investigations have been done before the change of governments. So maybe there is the possibility that the investigation of violations in human rights in Freeport might need to be done again in the years ahead. One of the daily newspapers in Jakarta, this week mentioned the very hard violation of human rights regarding the movement of villages or something. Were you talking about that to the President or anybody?
Amb. Pickering: It did not come up in my conversations, but it is an important question and I'll ask Ambassador Gelbard if he would like to respond to it.
Amb. Gelbard: Sometimes perceptions linger on for a long time even if reality has been stated repeatedly. There have been allegations of this sort for a long time, as you initially said, we believe that those allegations have been disproved repeatedly, repeatedly and genuinely. Just as there continue to be allegations about environmental problems. We've looked into these. We know that Freeport has done periodically independent environmental audits. We've examined those audits, including the most recent one in this Embassy. We feel it was done objectively and fairly. And we feel that the results of it show that Freeport, not just meets, but exceeds international standards. Clearly, I think it's been acknowledged that there have been human rights violations in Irian Jaya, but human rights violations by the security services, by the military and the police should be investigated thoroughly, we believe. But that shouldn't be confused with the company. To the degree that there continues to be what many are beginning to feel is harassment, that does have an effect on the investment climate, and that is a subject of concern. As Ambassador Pickering said before, for new investors to come, existing investors have to be seen as being treated equitably. And we are becoming concerned about what I, and many others feel, is increasing unfair harassment of Freeport.
Q: So, if there is a new investigation toward Freeport's operation in Irian Jaya, is the U.S. government going to facilitate the new investigation at all?
Amb. Gelbard: We are concerned. We do believe, let me repeat myself, we do believe that the accusations against Freeport have been disproved about human rights violations. However, the U.S. government is concerned about harassment of Freeport. And, once these allegations were disproven, one would hope that they would be left alone. We are also concerned about occasional allegations in the press where Freeport has not had the chance to respond, and we are concerned about whether it's Freeport or other American companies that there are problems in their treatment and this obviously is having some effect on the investment climate.
Q: (inaudible) human rights violations, would you extend those to PT Arun in Aceh as well, because there have been suggestions about ...?
Amb. Gelbard: Absolutely. In fact, there was one report in a publication, an American publication last year, that we found appalling, grossly exaggerated. I think it has been easy to disprove. We believe that this company has handled a very difficult situation extremely well. We know they have consulted with the Ministry of Human Rights, with NGOs. We feel that Mobil is a very good corporate citizen. I would add on Aceh that, as in other such situations around the world, we do believe that it is appropriate for the government to look at a range of issues that are interactive with each other. Security is an element. So are others including justice, including economic development, including the discussions that the government appears to intend to have with them regarding autonomy, as they say.
Q: One last question about Aceh. The President mentioned referendum within seven months back in November. Do you think that's still a realistic prospect?
Amb. Gelbard: I think that's up to the government of Indonesia to decide. That's an internal issue completely.
Q: Is there any likelihood that the Administration and Congress could work out a way to lift the restrictions on links with the military vis a vis the navy and air force and retain them on the army, because the army is the service that's generally implicated in these human rights violations that you've mentioned. But the air force and the navy are pretty clear in that respect. So is there any chance of lifting the restrictions on cooperation?
Amb.Pickering: I think the Leahy restrictions cover a general situation and not individual services and therefore have to be dealt with on that basis. The issue then might turn on whether the United States would choose as a matter of policy to cooperate with one service in preference to another over a period of time. That hasn't been decided. I think people are thinking about that, but that is not an issue on which we have a policy.
Amb. Gelbard: But what is more important here is that everything would be a lot simpler if the appropriate actions were taken in both accountability as the government is moving to do, we think, and particularly on the refugee situation. There is considerable concern in the United States, in our Congress and in the Executive Branch, but also throughout the international community about the fact that the return of refugees has essentially stagnated in the last three months. We feel that the situation in West Timor is untenable, and that with according to the Indonesian government's own count, some 150,000 - 160,000 East Timorese are staying in camps that are inhospitable, where according to Indonesian estimates some 700-900 people have died so far because of the health conditions and where the militias continue to harass people and create an environment that is difficult for people to return to East Timor. We feel that it is important that the Indonesian government take measures to remove militia leaders and help create a better environment within which people can make choices about whether to go back to East Timor or whether to become Indonesian citizens -- but to do it with urgency, because we are so concerned about the number of people who have died living in those camps. And that is something we have discussed with the Indonesian government over time, including now.
Q: Where do the problems lie? Is this still a problem of not being able to enforce by local officials and commanders or is there a lack of action at the central government level?
Amb. Pickering: I think we have raised this at the central government level in order to do everything we can to impel the process forward. The limitation we have, obviously, is not being in touch with local commanders, but the normal way of proceeding is obviously supposed to work with central government and to encourage them, if there is any lack of control, to remedy that problem as quickly as they can.
Amb. Gelbard: We do believe that the Indonesian government ought to have the ability to bring militia under control, to prevent them from intimidating the population, and hopefully to remove them to other parts of the country where they would not be able to exercise that kind of intimidation and harassment over the populace of the camps. But also leaving people in the camps for this period of time we believe is not appropriate. When Ambassador Holbrooke was here in November, we warned the authorities that leaving the people in the camps during the rainy season would, not could, would lead to an accelerated number of deaths. That has happened. And that is really truly lamentable. What we want to encourage the Indonesian government to do from the central government is to press ahead with initiatives to take action to give people choices and then disband the camps and allow people to either return or to move to other parts of Indonesia or to have homes in Indonesia. The United States government alone has provided some $75 million so far to UN agencies, to NGOs and to others to support the refugees. We have provided about 50% of all humanitarian funds that have been disbursed so far. The Indonesian government has received a great deal of assistance, for example, at the recent consultative group meeting, over $4.7 billion in commitments. We and others think that they ought to be taking measures with their own funds, and we think they could get additional funds from the international community, but including with their own funds to help resettle people. But this needs to be done really with some urgency.
Q: By resettle, you presumably mean in East Timor or are you talking about other parts of Indonesia, which is the question about consensus?
Amb. Gelbard: It depends on the citizenship they choose. Minister Basrie Hasanuddian has, we think, correctly said that he wants the people to decide by March 31 what kind of citizenship they want, whether East Timorese or Indonesian. But people who choose Indonesian citizenship then will either settle in West Timor or be part of some transmigration program to other parts of the country according to what the government tells us.
Q: So, then you explicitly said to the government that they need to solve the problem of the militia leaders by March 31 or else you can't have a free act of determination?
Amb. Gelbard: No, no.
Amb. Pickering: We asked that they solve it as soon as they possibly can. As Ambassador Gelbard has made clear, this is a primary impediment in the way of beginning to move the whole process forward.
Q: When you raised this issue with the people you met with, what sort of responses did you get and what if any commitments did you....?
Amb. Pickering: I think we got a positive response, and some said indeed we were asking them to do things that they had already resolved to do. They made clear, as Ambassador Gelbard made clear, that they were hoping for international financial support. We encouraged them to continue to seek that, and we said that we were, as Ambassador Gelbard made clear, providing a large amount of money for people who, in fact, were sitting in place and suffering the problems of sitting in place including those who had suffered death by waiting in camps through the rainy season. This money could be much better used in a process of getting people to go to homes, either their existing homes or to new homes in terms of the choices that they would make.
Q: Did they offer you a price tag on what it would cost?
Amb. Gelbard: But I want to stress, that while I'm sure in principle the international community would be willing to assist in this, it is also in the first instance, up to the Indonesian government to take the lead, to take the responsibility, to take the initiative both in policy terms and in financial terms. Indonesian has received and continues to receive an extraordinary amount of support, which it merits. And it ought to be leading the way on this financially and with policy initiatives and actions.
Q: There are a lot of things you are urging the Indonesian government to do. Amongst your priorities, how would you quantify the amount of pressure you are putting on the issue of refugees?
Amb. Pickering: I don't think we are putting pressure so much as explaining very clearly a situation which is both anomalous and detrimental to human life and to continuation of humanitarian treatment of these individuals. And we put a lot of priority on this because obviously it is a life and death situation for significant numbers of people. But in terms of quantifying each of the particular measures that we put forward, we did not set out a set of priorities but you and we have discussed here at this press conference a significant number of the major questions that came up in our conversations. And you can assume that the ones that you have asked about remain quite high priorities on our list and clearly we will continue to talk about them. In that sense, we deny the notion of pressure so much as a realistic discussion itself indicates the fact that there is a pressing humanitarian priority and some of these issues are pressing national, political and security priorities and others which we believe speaks to the Indonesian government very clearly.
Q: Back to Freeport that Freeport is in the clear and we should investigate the human rights abuses by the military. What about the human rights abuses committed by the military using Freeport facilities? Has that been brought up in your talks?
Amb. Gelbard: I think those are the kinds of things that I was referring to in the earlier question. Companies were often put in very difficult situations in this country, whether Indonesian, American or from anywhere else. In the past, I know there have been many instances where the military or the police go to the companies and say "I want to use this or I want to use that." It is very difficult for the company to say no, given the circumstances. These companies are in very difficult circumstances, but I again say it's important for there to be transparency and clarity if Indonesia wants investment. This is very important.
Q: I have two more questions. You are aware, Mr. Secretary, there is a big issue about the repositioning of seventy-four military officers. Some say that President Wahid is behind, is becoming the think tank behind all these repositions because he wants to get rid of General Wiranto's people in the forces. How do you see the relations between civil and military under this, you just mentioned about the first democratic leader in Indonesia?
Amb. Pickering: Let me say this that without respect to any particular issue of transfer, any particularly named individual, we have totally supported what the democratically elected Government of Indonesia has done, the principle that the military remains subordinate to civilian authority, that elected civilian authority in democratic governments by tradition has the authority to deal with and control the military. We see evidence, in fact, of this being a principle being carried out by the elected civilian government and, as a result, we have been supportive of that. But that doesn't involve -- because obviously these are internal choices of the government -- comments on any move, its justice or injustice, but merely the fact the civilian authority has decided what it wishes to do and is exercising that control over the military.
Q: Yesterday I see that you met the head of Parliament, Amien Rais, and Amien Rais told the press that there were several sensitive questions about the succession, about jihad, about Indonesia's position in the future and I myself see these as quite sensitive questions to Indonesia in a global position and in politics. So, is it really true the U.S. government really worries about how Indonesia will act in the future?
Amb. Pickering: Ambassador Gelbard reminded me that Secretary Cohen, Secretary of the Defense of the United States, made a statement about the essentiality of civilian rule before the government came into power. We were making that point very clear to the government before that happened. I think that the questions that we asked were diplomatic questions that relate obviously to a wide range of concerns and issues, some of which are frequently suggested to us by press reporting about what is going on in the country. And the fact that we ask such questions, I think, should only be interpreted that we, like you, have curiosity about how the government sees issues, about how leaders see issues and wish to determine for ourselves through a process of asking questions precisely what is meant. Of course, we share a concern about the future of Indonesia. I related in my opening statement how important we consider Indonesia to be, both on the world scene and on the regional scene as well as the fact that this represents the future for 220 million people on the earth, the world's third largest democracy and the largest Muslim country in the world. All of which means that we do take Indonesia very seriously, where it is going very seriously and how leaders of various parts of the Indonesian government see things. It is extremely important and, as a result, we neither apologize for our questions nor in any way would bow to the journalists as being second class in asking.
Amb. Gelbard: Thank you very much.