- The Washington Times - Monday, January 24, 2000

The United States, in a seminar attended by officials from five former military dictatorships today, plans to show guests from Indonesia options for dealing with human rights abusers under the regime of former President Suharto.
The objective, U.S. officials said, is to show visiting Indonesian officials how other governments managed to transform into democracies and successfully confront the past without sparking a backlash from the military.
The conference, jointly sponsored by the State Department and the U.S. Institute of Peace, comes at a time when Indonesia's government of newly elected President Abdurrahman Wahid finds itself buffeted by persistent rumors of an imminent military coup.
Officials from South Africa, El Salvador, Argentina, Chile and South Korea are to meet with the Indonesians at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), where they will be addressed by Attorney General Janet Reno and State Department Director of Policy Planning Morton Halperin.
South Africa used a truth commission, El Salvador granted a broad amnesty for both sides in its civil war, and the other countries found other ways to reconcile victims of violence with those who once abused power.
In all cases, the delicate emergence of democracy was threatened by the need to bring to justice those who had killed and tortured people during authoritarian rule.
A State Department official said that without some way to address its past violence, Indonesia risked being torn apart by ethnic and religious violence.
"Justice and reconciliation are the prerequisites for Indonesian integrity and democratic reform," said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
However, the idea of the United States telling the Indonesians how to deal with their still out-of-control military has sparked intense criticism in Indonesia, said Patrick Clawson of the USIP.
"Critical ministers wanted to come but can't afford to be seen as taking advice from the Americans," he said in an interview.
"Americans played a heavy-handed game. We're the 800-pound gorilla in the world today, and it looks like we are dictating. It's better for South Africans and others to offer advice.
"The Indonesians want to come and learn, but not to be lectured."
Indonesian participants include Attorney General Marzuki Darusman; Minister of Law and Legislation Yusril Izha, and Minister of State and Human Rights Hasbollah M. Saad.
The only officer of Indonesia's military, which for three decades ran the country from behind the scenes, is Lt. Gen. Johny Lumintang of the Military Staff College a crucial institution at the very center of the military, said Mr. Clawson.
"Back home, there are those critical of their coming" to the seminar in Washington, he added.
"This could definately fuel a backlash. This is an evolving situation very fragile."
Anti-Christian violence drove thousands from the tourist island of Lombok last week, while Islamic activists in the oil-rich Aceh province continue to seek redress for past military repression and possible independence.
Mr. Clawson said that beyond these well-documented problems, people continue to disappear in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital.
"The whole plan of the conference is to help … the new government in Indonesia through hearing stories of other countries that weathered transitions," he said.
Ideas for Indonesia to pursue include a truth commission like South Africa's, in which military rights abusers got amnesty in return for an honest accounting of their crimes, or payments of compensation to victims and their families so as to defuse their anger without attempting to punish the army.
Perhaps the most sensitive issue will be dealing with Indonesia's special forces "which we trained, unfortunately," said Mr. Clawson. These were blamed for the violence in East Timor after it voted for independence last summer.

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