- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 29, 2000

JAKARTA, Indonesia Foreign terrorist groups are trying to "burrow in and implant" themselves in Indonesia while the country's security forces waste their time demonizing the United States, U.S. Ambassador Robert Gelbard warned in an interview.

In unusually blunt comments, the ambassador also criticized the Indonesian military for failing to rein in the militias that "devastated" East Timor last year, and objected to the retention of anti-American ministers in a Cabinet reshuffle last week.

"Unfortunately, Indonesia's so-called intelligence agencies have continued to try to argue that the real enemies in Indonesia are the United States and Australia as opposed to, once again, looking at … the real potential threat to their national security," he said.

Mr. Gelbard's comments in an on-the-record interview were extraordinary at a time when most ambassadors allow themselves to be quoted only as "Western diplomats."

But the former chief anti-narcotics officer at the State Department, who was sent to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1997 to enforce the Dayton peace accords, has been shaking things up since he was named to the Jakarta post in February last year.

The respected Far East Economic Review, in a May 4 article, described Mr. Gelbard as "an ambassadorial pit bull who likes to cultivate the tough-guy image he earned jousting with Bolivian drug lords and Serbian hard men."

"It's a side of American diplomacy that hasn't been seen around Southeast Asia since the Cold War," continued the article, which said Mr. Gelbard "has few qualms about upsetting [local] sensitivities or using development assistance for political objectives."

In a 90-minute interview at the U.S. Embassy on Wednesday, Mr. Gelbard said: "We are very concerned about the opportunities which exist in Indonesia now that it has become such an open society, for extremist groups, including extremist terrorist groups from the outside, to burrow in and implant themselves in Indonesia. We believe that has begun."

To the degree that the security services focus on an imagined threat from the United States, he said, "they are blinding themselves from an understanding of how to cope with problems that could be building in this country."

Mr. Gelbard also complained that Indonesian militiamen continue to stage violent raids into East Timor, killing and maiming its citizens.

The militias, which "absolutely devastated" East Timor after its people voted for independence on Aug. 30, 1999, "have not only not been disarmed and disbanded, they have grown in strength," Mr. Gelbard said.

The militias are receiving training, equipment and ammunition "from somewhere and from somebody," he said. "While we don't believe this is [Indonesian military] policy, there is no question there are elements of the army that continue to support the militias."

The interview was in progress when Indonesia President Abdurrahman Wahid appeared on television to announce the lineup of his new Cabinet. Commenting afterward, Mr. Gelbard said he hoped the changes would bring better business ties between the United States and Indonesia.

A number of ministers from the outgoing Cabinet "had American companies very much in their cross hairs," he said. "Some of them, unfortunately, appear still to be in the Cabinet.

"It is shocking to me that the minister of environment will stay on, for example. [He] has focused virtually only on criticism of American companies and has done virtually nothing to deal with the problems, the real, most important environmental problems which affect Indonesia."

Despite his criticisms of the Indonesian military, Mr. Gelbard said he had signed a letter of agreement that day providing for U.S. assistance in training the national police and providing some equipment for fighting narcotics.

"Our training, in the first instance, is … going to involve leadership training," Mr. Gelbard said. "Teaching the actual police leaders, the officers who will be in charge under these circumstances, how to manage their troops, how to manage the police, and how to deal with demonstrators."

Though Congress since the early 1990s has banned military aid to Jakarta, Mr. Gelbard said, "We've begun to look at where, under what circumstances, and how we should and could re-engage with the military.

"I think it is useful and important for us to consider relationships with certain parts of the military under certain circumstances, particularly starting with the navy, marines and air force."

The ambassador said the army has had a "clear breakdown in the chain of command," ranging from oil-rich Aceh in the west, where Muslim fundamentalists are seeking independence, to the Molucca islands in the northeast, where Christian-Muslim fighting has claimed 4,000 lives in 18 months.

"What is outrageous and inexcusable has been that people, up to and including the foreign minister, have constantly beaten the drums against foreign intervention [in the Moluccas], when there was no specter of foreign intervention out there," Mr. Gelbard said.

"And, in essence, it was creating the specter of some kind of scapegoat, often pointing to us.

"Which is why we've been subjected to violent demonstrations and even, what appears to have been a simulated bomb out in front of the embassy, rather than [Indonesians] looking in the mirror and trying to see who the real people responsible are here mainly themselves."

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