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Cohen Issues Blunt Warnings on East Timor, Indonesian Democracy

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

JAKARTA, Indonesia, Oct. 1, 1999 – Defense Secretary William Cohen challenged military and civilian leaders here to stop the violence in East Timor and establish a strong civilian government that controls the military as well.

"The United States supports an Indonesia that is democratic, stable, strong, prosperous and united," Cohen said at a press conference Sept. 30, following meetings with Indonesian President B. J. Habibie, Defense Minister Gen. Wiranto and others.

"This is a period of hope and excitement for the people of Indonesia," Cohen said. He noted that the national legislature convenes Oct. 1, leading up to national elections in November. He expressed hope the legislature will move Indonesia "another important step in the transformation to democracy."

Unrest and violence in East Timor, the island province that voted for independence, however, have overshadowed the democratic transition in Jakarta. Since that August referendum, the province has been rocked by violence, often involving Indonesian military support of an anti-independence militia. Cohen said the military's involvement and the continued threat of more violence by the militia could unravel progress the country has made both in its move toward democracy and its economy.

"The government and the military face a choice," Cohen said. "If they work toward a peaceful solution in East Timor, if they investigate and punish those guilty of improper behavior, if they disarm the militia in West Timor and prevent if from destabilizing East Timor, they will help fulfill Indonesia's national obligation and international obligations.

"But if they fail to work for a peaceful transition in East Timor by allowing violence to continue, Indonesia's interests will be hurt."

Since the violence and military complicity began, the United States and other countries have halted military programs in Indonesia.

"We have suspended all military programs and initiated a review of all bilateral assistance that is not related to promoting democracy or easing humanitarian problems," he said. "We will not be able to restore normal relations until we see successful efforts to promote safety for the people of East Timor and allow the peace process to proceed."

Cohen spent only a day and night Jakarta before moving on to Bangkok, Thailand, with what a senior DoD official traveling with him termed "relationship mending" talks with government and military officials. Thailand felt the United States did not initially offer enough financial assistance to its long-time Asian ally when the economy turned severely downward in 1997-98.

From there, he will go to Singapore for more high-level talks expected to focus on regional stability and security, before returning to Washington Oct. 5.

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