As the US Considers Normalizing Relations with the Indonesia Army, We Talk with Lesley Mcculloch, a Scottish Academic Who Was Recently Released From An Aceh Jail

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The US Ambassador to Indonesia said last week the United States wants to normalize relations with the Indonesian army. But Ambassador Ralph Boyce said obstacles remain, including suspicions that Indonesian soldiers were involved in the murder of two American teachers.

The New York Times reported in January that Bush administration officials have in fact concluded that Indonesian soldiers carried out the deadly ambush that killed the two teachers. One senior administration official told the Times there is no question the attack was premeditated.

The teachers taught at an international school owned and operated by Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold. The US company operates one of the world’s largest copper and gold mines in the area. Freeport had reduced payments and other benefits to soldiers. A Western intelligence analyst said the killings were “Extortion, pure and simple.”

Immediately, Indonesian and Freeport officials blamed a separatist group, the Free Papua Movement, which has been fighting a low-level guerrilla war for independence for several decades. Papuans and international human rights groups say the company has destroyed sacred lands, ravaged the environment and failed to share mineral wealth with impoverished local communities.

The killings are only one of the most recent–and most well publicized–examples of the Indonesian military’s brutal record of human rights violations, which include torture and mass killings. The Clinton administration cut off US aid to the Indonesian military in 1999, when the Indonesian armed forces razed East Timor to the ground.

But US support for the brutal regime continues. The Bush administration is giving the Indonesian military and police forces millions of dollars for so-called 'counter-terrorism' training. The regime has other allies. This week, Australian Prime Minister John Howard is expected propose to the United Nations that the UN Security Council be revamped to include a permanent seat for Indonesia. Ten days ago, Indonesia announced a $200 million dollar deal with Russia to buy six Russian fighter jets and helicopters.

Today we are joined in our studios by a professor who experienced first-hand the brutality of the Indonesian military. She is Lesley McCulloch, a political scientist who for many years has been following human rights violations in Aceh.

Aceh is on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra. It has the largest natural gas field in the world. The people living in this resource-rich region are calling for a referendum for self-determination. They want independence from Indonesia because of the military’s brutal repression of their people. After the overthrow of Suharto, mass graves were uncovered. Over 1,000 people have been killed in Aceh last year alone. An estimated 12,000 have been killed in the past decade. And the killings continue.

McCulloch was visiting there last year when she was arrested on charges of visa violations. She was also accused of trying to contact members of a separatist group known as the Free Aceh Movement. She spent 5 months in jail, along with Joy Lee Sadler, an American nurse. We spoke to both of them last December from their cell phones in prison in Aceh.

Lesley was released earlier this year and joins us now in our studio.

  • Lesley McCulloch, a political scientist based in Australia, is a long time research of human rights violations in Aceh. She was visiting there last year when she was arrested in Aceh on charges of visa violations. She was also accused of trying to contact members of a separatist group known as the Free Aceh Movement. She eventually spent 5 months in jail.
  • Kurt Biddle, coordinator, Indonesian Human Rights Network.

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