JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — The United States announced Thursday it will resume cooperation with Indonesia's special forces after ties were severed more than a decade ago over suspected human rights abuses by the commando unit.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates made the announcement after meeting with Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Thursday in the capital of Jakarta. Indonesia had said it wanted the United States to reconsider resuming joint training.
The decision will be seen as a victory for the Indonesian military, which has said it made great strides in improving its human rights record.
Indonesia's special forces were accused of major abuses through the 1990s in the provinces of Papua and Aceh and the former Indonesian province of East Timor, which has since become independent. The U.S. cut ties with the special forces under a 1997 law that banned U.S. training for foreign military units accused of human rights violations. The ban can be lifted if there have been substantial measures to bring culprits to justice.
"I was pleased to be able to tell the president that as a result of Indonesian military reform over the past decade ... and recent actions taken by the Ministry of Defense to address human rights issues, the United States will begin measured and gradual programs of security cooperation activities with the Indonesian Army Special Forces," Mr. Gates said at a press conference.
"This initial step will take place within the limit of U.S. law and does not signal any lessening of the importance we place on human rights and accountability," he added.
Mr. Yudhoyono guaranteed that there would be no more rights abuses by the Indonesian military.
"I'll guard the Indonesian military reform and ensure that what happened 10 or 20 years ago will not happen again," the president was quoted as saying by Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro, who also attended the meeting with Mr. Gates.
Washington severed all ties with the Indonesian military in 1999 after troops rampaged through East Timor when it voted to secede from Indonesia. The U.S. lifted that overall ban in 2005, but kept its restrictions against the special forces — known as Kopassus.
"Our ability to expand after this initial step will depend on continued implementation of reforms with Kopassus and [the Indonesian military] as a whole," Mr. Gates said.
International rights groups have said members of Kopassus were linked to the disappearance of student activists in 1997 and 1998 and were never held accountable.
But Mr. Gates said that he and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were both convinced that rapprochement was "the right thing to do at this time."
Associated Press writer Joe Cochrane contributed to this report.