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Secretary Cohen Press Conference in Jakarta, Indonesia

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
September 18, 2000

(Press conference at Halim Perdanakusuma Airport in Jakarta, Indonesia)

Secretary Cohen: Let me say good afternoon to you, and let me apologize for the delay in starting this press conference. I'm sorry there were some scheduling difficulties along the way. And also, for the many of you who were at the meeting today with the president, I regret I couldn't take time to meet with you afterwards. Otherwise, I would have been even more behind schedule than we currently are today.

Let me just say that I have just finished meetings with President Wahid, Vice President Megawati, Coordinating Minister Yudhoyono, Defense Minister Mahfud, and Admiral Widodo, the commander of the Armed Forces. Shortly after I arrived last evening, I met with Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN transitional administrator in East Timor.

In every meeting I made the same points: The United States strongly supports Indonesia's historic transition to democracy, but that transition must include a clear commitment to the rule of law and an end to the violence in East and West Timor.

Under President Wahid's leadership, Indonesia has begun to build democratic institutions, to rebuild its economy, to rehabilitate it, and to place the military under civilian control. Indonesia has also begun to pursue accountability for human rights abuses in Aceh, Timor and elsewhere while maintaining Indonesia's territorial integrity. And I would like to make this point as clearly and categorically as I can, that the United States strongly supports Indonesia's maintaining its territorial integrity.

The United States and every country in the region want these reforms to succeed, so that Indonesia will be a country where people can live up to their potential rather than be dragged down by their problems. But some forces in Indonesia seek to undermine these reforms through violence and terror, such as the cowards who bombed the Jakarta Stock Exchange last week. These destructive forces must not succeed.

My discussions covered the full range of challenges and opportunities confronting Indonesia, but President Clinton asked me to highlight one issue: Indonesia's disappointing response to the September 6 murder of three unarmed UN aid workers, including an American citizen, in West Timor. After the UNHCR received full security guarantees from the Indonesian government, these workers went back in to do their humanitarian work and were brutally murdered.

The United States and the entire international community have condemned this brutal attack by militia killers and have called on the Indonesian authorities to take immediate action to deal with the Timor crisis.

On September 8, the UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1319, which insists that Indonesia disarm and disband all militia elements, ensure the safety and the welfare of all refugees and humanitarian aid workers, and arrest and prosecute those responsible for this crime.

The Security Council still intends to send a mission to Jakarta and Atambua to discuss Indonesia's implementation of the resolution. President Wahid and the leadership of the TNI have given their assurances that Indonesia is prepared to move quickly and to move decisively to deal with the West Timor situation.

Indonesia is not alone in this endeavor. The international community, including the United States, has already given many millions of dollars to help care for the refugees in West Timor, and the United States has repeatedly offered to help shoulder the costs involved, including the costs of repatriating refugees who want to go back to East Timor and moving those who want to stay in Indonesia.

But as the murder of the UNHCR staff painfully demonstrates, no program of repatriation or transmigration can move forward until the security situation is restored and the militias have been disbanded. A failure to do so will have consequences for Jakarta's relations with the international community, and it could, in fact, jeopardize continued economic assistance to Indonesia.

Now, I recognize that the TNI is going through a difficult transition and appreciate the reforms that already are underway, such as the separation of the police from the military. The United States is eager to help the TNI become a professional force that respects human rights and is respected for its military might, but our ability to do so depends on credible progress in resolving the refugee and militia problems in West Timor and in holding accountable those responsible for past human rights abuses.

Indonesia faces a momentous decision--whether to build a fair, just society under the rule of law or to allow unpunished violence to explode the dream of democracy, stability, unity and prosperity. This is a crucial choice for the people of Indonesia. Thank you.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you said that President Wahid and others have given assurances they are prepared to move quickly. Did you get those assurances today, personally, and on what timetable?

Cohen: The answer is 'yes.' We did receive assurances that the leadership is prepared to move quickly -- as quickly as possible -- understanding it is a complex process. But nonetheless, time is of the essence. There cannot be delays or deferrals, in any way, to seek to stretch this out. This is something that must be addressed in the immediate future.

The militia must be disarmed. They must be disbanded. They must be held accountable. That is something that the TNI and the government must be dedicated to. Until that happens, then that certainly will impede a much fuller relationship on the part of the international community with Indonesia, including that of the United States.

Q: Did Admiral Widodo or the President give you any timetable-a firm timetable-for getting this done?

Cohen: I think that they indicated they are prepared to move as quickly as they can. They understand that time is of the essence.

Q: For the last year, we've heard these promises from Indonesia. They seem to be unwilling or physically incapable of disarming the militias because they don't want to fight their 'brothers' who fought for integration. My question: can you tell us specifically what the Indonesian government is going to do to disarm the militias? Are they going to arrest them? Are they going to move them to another part of Indonesia?

Cohen: I think you should wait over the next few weeks to see exactly what action is taken. All of the leaders I met with understand the gravity of the situation. One of the reasons I wanted to come, in addition to having come on a number of occasions in the past, was to deliver and reinforce the message -- and one specifically that the President wanted me to convey -- about the urgency that is required of the Indonesian government to deal with the militias. They cannot defer this any longer. They cannot deny that they exist, that they are armed, and frankly, cannot take the position that they are incapable of dismantling the militias. Without the dismantling of the militias, the problem will continue to fester. The longer it festers, that is going to impede the international community's relationship with Indonesia.

All of us want Indonesia to succeed. Contrary to the rumors, the fictitious rumors that I have read that, somehow, the United Nations or the Western countries or the United States or other countries want to see these kinds of problems fester so they can lead to the breakup of Indonesia are completely false. It is complete nonsense. We support the integrity of Indonesia. We believe it is important that it remain united, and we want to see it prosper.

And it can only prosper if the international community sees that, indeed, the leadership of this country is committed to the rule of law, is committed to the reforms that it has articulated and supported, and takes action and not words that will be strung out indefinitely. So, I want to make it clear that we feel very strongly that the stability, the unity, the prosperity of Indonesia are in everyone's interests, and we are strongly in favor of them.

Q: You said that the U.S. government wants to help the TNI to be more professional. In what way would you do that?

Cohen: We certainly have had relationships with the Indonesian military in the past. We have had cooperation at the military-to-military level -- which has been suspended as a result of legislation that was passed by the Congress based upon the human rights abuses. That's one of the reasons why it's so important for the government to act quickly to remove any doubt that the leadership of this country is committed to stopping the militias from conducting these crimes against the people in East Timor, from harassing them, intimidating them, and, indeed, murdering them.

We have to see concrete action being taken; otherwise, we can't have the kind of relationship which is very important for the Indonesian military and, frankly, for our own. We have very strong bilateral relations with most of the countries in the region. We train together; we exercise together; we share technologies and techniques; and it makes each of us stronger. When that military relationship is interrupted or cut off, it can only lead to the degradation of the capability of the militaries. So, we want to see it restored, but it can only be restored if, in fact, the abuses that we have identified are addressed: people held accountable and the militias dismantled and disarmed. Until that happens, we cannot have the restoration of the kind of relationship that will benefit the Indonesian military.

Q: Has anyone in your meetings today reassured you that the Indonesia government will accept now the Security Council delegation, which was due to come here before? Is it your understanding that they will allow the Security Council delegation to come?

Cohen: I did not seek such assurance. We made it very clear that the delegation is going to be coming to Jakarta. Whether they are embraced or accepted by the Indonesian government is for the government to decide. We do know that Minister Yudhoyono will be traveling to New York very soon, if not today, to convey to members of the UN Security Council and others, what is taking place here. I would expect that the UN delegation which, frankly, would be several diplomatic personnel would come to Jakarta in order to work with the Indonesian government. This is something that we believe the Indonesian government should welcome. This is something that would be helpful. This is not designed to harm or interfere with the Indonesian government's jurisdiction or sovereignty but to help deal with the problem that has international implications.

Q: What kind of real action is the United States going to take if the Indonesian government fails to disband the militias and end the violence in East Timor?

Cohen: It is not a question of the United States taking military action. Again, another myth that was somehow floated in some parts of the media is that the Marines who were in East Timor were somehow there for a military operation. They were there to deliver humanitarian assistance and to help build some houses for the local people. That kind of support will continue. But it will be the international community acting on a united front, in my judgment, that would certainly have diplomatic and economic consequences in the event that the issues are not addressed in the way in which they should be addressed.

Q: Will the United States support sanctions against Indonesia if action isn't taken against the militias in the next few weeks?

Cohen: I think it's premature for me to discuss what action the United States will take. What I can say is that the president of the United States and the secretary of state view this very seriously, along with all in the administration. It is important that the murders that took place not go unattended, that there be an active, aggressive search for the killers, and that they be brought to justice. The kind of action that is necessary will be evident to all concerned. What takes place in the coming weeks, I think, will determine what the international community's reaction will be. It could have, certainly, some serious financial implications. It's important. That's why I mentioned in my closing remarks that there's a crucial choice for the people of Indonesia, to move forward with a united, democratic, prosperous future, or return to the past. I think that's the choice the Indonesian government faces, and the Indonesian people.

Q: The Indonesians have been making promises about the militias and the refugees in West Timor for the last year. How can you be so sure that they're going to deliver now?

Cohen: We'll have to see the proof of that in the next few weeks to see what kind of concrete action is taken. Again, I made it very clear what our position is, what I believe that of the international community is. And I don't think that the Indonesian government wants to be in the position of simply ignoring or remaining indifferent to the UN Security Council resolutions and the implications for their non-compliance with them.

Q: The U.S. has expressed that if Indonesia required the U.S.'s help in resolving the bombing in the Jakarta Stock Exchange, they would provide any kind of technical assistance on that issue. Has Indonesia asked for any kind of help in that area to the U.S., and what is your position?

Cohen: There has been no such request at this time, but of course, we do stand ready to provide whatever technical expertise might be required and requested, as the ambassador indicated, as we have done before.

Q: One of the things you conveyed this morning in your meeting with the president is that the U.S. doesn't need much discussion and that you want to see concrete action be taken. Can you clarify what concrete actions are and what sanctions could be taken and when could they be taken if Indonesia fails again?

Cohen: What I indicated, in terms of concrete actions, was for the government to dismantle, disband, and disarm the militias that are operating in West Timor. That would be concrete action. That would be evidence that the government is serious about dealing with this problem-- To continue the reforms of the TNI, to make sure that the military is in fact consistent with democratic governments in being subordinate to civilian rule. We want to promote justice - bringing people to justice. When people have committed violations of human rights and committed atrocities, they must be brought to the bar of justice. And those would be concrete steps that the Indonesian government can take to show to the world that, indeed, they are on the path to pursuing democracy, the rule of law and standing as a model to follow.

Thank you very much.