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Published: Thursday, 2/17/2005

New approach to Indonesia

SECRETARY of State Condoleezza Rice's move to mend relations between the United States and the Indonesian military is an important element in the worldwide campaign against terrorism. Some congressmen may balk because Indonesia hasn't been held accountable for past crimes, including the murder of two American teachers. But the military won't change without reform, and that includes accountability.

Ironically, it was the tsunami disaster that prompted the United States to approach Indonesia. The U.S. military distributed aid to Indonesia last month, giving Indonesians regular contact with Americans and clearing the way for Congress to reconsider its view of that island nation.

However, a new take on Indonesia doesn't mean the Bush Administration should overlook human rights abuses. Indonesia's human rights record led to a cooling of relations with the U.S. 13 years ago. Those relations chilled further when East Timor, a former Indonesian province, successfully fought for independence because of the Indonesian military's murderous excesses.

Despite that distressing history, a new relationship with Indonesia is necessary for the United States to conduct an effective battle against terrorism.

President Bush tried to get closer to Indonesia after 9/11, but that became futile when two U.S. schoolteachers were killed in Papau province, and the army hindered U.S. investigations. The military took responsibility for the teachers' deaths. However, Indonesia should promptly allow the United States to conduct its own investigation into the teachers' deaths.

Indeed, Indonesia is slowly becoming an increasingly democratic and moderate nation.

Times have changed since dictator General Suharto was deposed several years ago. Now, although the civilian minister of defense, Juwono Sudarsono, acknowledges that the military still "retains the real levers of power," both he and U.S. militarily trained President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono know their nation needs a disciplined and professional force.

Secretary Rice is willing to see that happen, and if Indonesia is ready to show signs of real reform, Congress shouldn't get in the way.

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