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Cohen Tells Indonesian Leaders to Disarm, Disband Militias

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

JAKARTA, Indonesia, Sept. 18, 2000 – During a long day of meetings, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen told Indonesian leaders Sept. 18 that they must disband and disarm the "killer militias" on the island of Timor.

Cohen met separately with President Abdurrahman Wahid, Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri, Coordinating Minister for Political, Social and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Defense Minister Mohammad Mahfud Mahmodin.

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

On Sept. 6, militias operating out of refugee camps in West Timor targeted the office of the U.N. High Commission on Refugees. A militia-led mob descended on the offices and murdered three aid workers including an American.

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

The Indonesian government had guaranteed the U.N. workers' safety, but police and soldiers left the area as the militias approached. More relief workers would have been killed had local citizens not hidden them. Since the killings, there has been little movement on finding the perpetrators, the official said.

Cohen delivered a message from President Clinton to Wahid on the killings. "They understand that they will be held accountable," Cohen said in a short interview with the traveling press before the news conference. "(The Indonesian leaders) understand that, and they indicated that they need to take appropriate measures."

He stressed the United States wants to see a unified, democratic and prosperous Indonesia. He said all countries in the region and in the West "want Indonesia to succeed." He said he's seen stories that the United States, United Nations and others want to see Indonesia's problems fester and lead to a breakup.

"That is completely false," he said. "It is complete nonsense."

Cohen said the United States supports Indonesia's territorial integrity. "We believe it is important that it remain united," he said. "We want to see it prosper, but it can only prosper if the international community sees that the leadership of this country is committed to the rule of law, is committed to reforms and takes action and not words."

Before the meetings, U.S. officials said they did not believe Indonesian leaders understood how serious the situation on Timor is regarded by the international community. After the meetings, Cohen said he had a commitment from Wahid and the military leadership that Indonesia "is prepared to move quickly and decisively to deal with the West Timor crisis."

Cohen said Jakarta's failure to address these problems would affect its relations with the international community and would jeopardize continued economic assistance to Indonesia.

Cohen said Indonesia must make credible progress toward solving the refugee crisis on Timor and allowing the rule of law to work.

"Indonesia faces a momentous decision: Whether to build a fair, just society under the rule of law or to allow unpunished violence explode the dream of democracy, stability, unity and prosperity," he said.

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Related Sites:
DoD News Briefing: Secretary Cohen Press Conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, Sept. 18, 2000

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageRobert Gelbart (from left), U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, and Defense Secretary William S. Cohen speak with Indonesian Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri in Jakarta. Cohen told Indonesian leaders Sept. 18 that they must disarm and disband the militias terrorizing the island of Timor. Photo by Jim Garamone.   
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