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Indonesia-US Relations: A Reformulation?

Updated On: Jan 17, 2006

The recent improvement of relations between Indonesiaand the USdid not translate immediately to the windfall in diplomacy between the two states as some quarters hoped.

Conservatives in the UShad been talking about the great alliance in the region in containing Chinawhile Indonesian hawks have been looking at sophisticatedUSweapons for upgrading defence needs. Instead, there were general calls within Indonesiafor cooler and more sustainable momentum for building up ties and to focus on cooperation in dealing with piracy and anti-terrorism issues in the MalaccaStraitsand the Southeast Asian region.

Details would be thrashed out at the Indonesia-United States Security Dialogue (IUSSD) in Jakartaon January 20 (first held in Jakartain 2002). In the defence sector, the first concrete move would be for the USto forward the spare parts for Indonesia’s F-16 jet fighters held up by a 12 year-old embargo. To complement the IUSSD, both countries are also keen on the US-Indonesia Bilateral Defense Dialogue (USIBDD) focusing on joint exercises and logistics. Previously, this dialogue was the basis for Indonesian defense forces (TNI) and the US Pacific Command (US PACOM) joint exercises. The offshoot of USIBDD, the Training and Exercise Working Group, had already resumed contacts in 2004. Meanwhile the US PACOM had offered around 100 training programs codenamed "Subject Matters Expert Exchanges", out of which the Indonesian defense forces also already selected 80.

While relations seem to be on the mend, there will be challenges from time to time. For example, eight rebels of the Free Papua Movement (OPM) have been implicated with the killings of two American teachers, Rickey Lynn Spier, 44, of Littleton, Colorado, and Leon Edwin Burgon, 71, of Sunriver, Oregon, near a US copper and gold mine, Freeport Indonesia, in the easternmost province of Papua in 2002. In 2002, the teachers' vehicle were fired upon as they returned from a picnic near the mine owned by New Orleans-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold Mine Inc. 200 rounds of bullets were fired. 11 others, mostly Americans, were injured in this incident.

One of the eight men has been flown to Jakartaon Saturday to undergo questioning at the National Police Headquarters and is now wanted in the US.  Four have already been released by the authorities. OPM rebels are fighting for an independent state and have resisted Jakartaintegration. They have resorted to kidnapping and killing of foreigners drawn to some of the world’s largest gold and copper mines and also extensive forest reserves, as part of the campaign to internationalize their cause.

Indonesiaclaimed that it has not yet received a request from the United Statesto extradite one of the accused, Anthonius Wamang, who was indicted by a U.S.grand jury for killing the two American teachers. To complicate matters, Indonesiahas no extradition agreement with the United Statesand it becomes a tricky issue of whether Jakartashould release the suspect to Washington. "(Because) there is no such a practice (of extradition) in the past, it does not necessarily apply to this case. But a legal cooperation is possible between Indonesiaand U.S.," Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda said.

Indonesiahad to balance its interests in improved relations with the USand its own domestic political dynamics. When the prisoners were transferred to Jakarta, protesters from the United Front for the Struggle of the West Papuan People, blocked CendrawasihUniversityand demanded that the eight suspects be questioned in Jayapura and tried in Timika instead of Jakarta.  This incident may also heightened tensions in an already restive region of Papua. 

Sources:

* RI, US to Re-formulate Security Cooperation (Antara, Jan 14)

* Suspects In Timika Killing Flown To Jakarta(Antara, Jan 14)

Indonesiayet to receive U.S.request to extradite man accused of killing teachers (Jakarta Post, Jan 15)

* Suspects in Timika killing moved to Jakarta(Jakarta Post, Jan 15)