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Press Conference at the Borobudor Hotel, Jakarta, Indonesia

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
October 01, 1999

Press Conference at the Borobudur Hotel, Jakarta, Indonesia

Secretary Cohen: Good afternoon. Before I start, I would like to thank Ambassador Stapleton Roy for his distinguished service as the United States Ambassador to Indonesia. This, regrettably, is his last day as ambassador here, and he has represented U.S. interests and Indonesian concerns, with great skill. And so I'd like to pay tribute to you, Stape, for the great work you have done on behalf of our country.

Today, I met with President Habibie, General Wiranto, acting Foreign Minister Feisal Tandjung, and Minister Ginandjar. I also met with Mrs. Megawati, and representatives of human rights groups and non-governmental organizations. In every meeting I made the same points. The United States supports an Indonesia that is democratic, stable, strong, prosperous, and united. This is a period of hope and excitement for the people of Indonesia. When the MPR convenes tomorrow, Indonesia will take another important step in the transformation of democracy. At the same time the economy is beginning to improve. And yet, these accomplishments have become overshadowed by events in East Timor, where elements in the military have aided and abetted violence.

And now the government and the military of Indonesia face a choice. If they work toward a peaceful solution in East Timor, if they investigate and punish those who are guilty of improper behavior, if they disarm the militia in West Timor and prevent it from trying to destabilize East Timor, they will help fulfill Indonesia's national obligations, and international obligations.

But if they fail to work for peaceful transition in East Timor by allowing violence to continue, then Indonesia's interests will be hurt. The United States wants a good relationship with Indonesia, but the government's failure to stop destruction and violence in East Timor has in fact impaired our level of cooperation. 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. And 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.

In all of my meetings, I stressed that the military must operate under civilian control, and that it must show restraint and respect for human rights throughout Indonesia. And as the MPR prepares to meet it is clear that Indonesia faces significant choices: decisions that are going to determine whether democracy succeeds or fails. I'd be happy to entertain your questions.

Q: Inaudible

Secretary Cohen: The question was, 'What was the response of those individuals I spoke with today?'. The answer is they understood exactly the message I was delivering. And, as I've tried to indicate, I come to Indonesia as a friend of Indonesia. I'm not here to lecture people about rights and responsibilities. I am here to give them the benefit of my own observations and that of my government. And I believe that, unless the Indonesian government seeks to achieve those goals that I set forward, and set forth, that there will be consequences inevitably that will flow. I believe that all that I spoke to appreciated exactly what I was saying, and they understand what their responsibilities are. And so, I am satisfied there was a positive response. The question really is one of not only verbal assurances but also of actual deeds. So time will have to tell whether there will be the kind of commitment that I believe is going to be necessary in order to achieve the goals that I've articulated.

Q: Can you go into detail on the Indonesian response?

Secretary Cohen: Well, these were private conversations. I can only tell you that I outlined each and every one of these areas that each individual I spoke to and those within the groups understood exactly what was involved. There was every indication that there would, in fact, be full cooperation, that each understood that what takes place in East Timor will have a significant impact on the future of Indonesia, and they indicated they are prepared to take positive action. And so, I think I will just leave it at that.

Q: My question is, the United States...now East Timor, Aceh is already come up as you cover it, and my question is what next the United States will see? And do you think the unitary state of Indonesia is still important to you? The next is, what can you make clear about the civilian government in Indonesia as in your statement before? Thank you.

Secretary Cohen: I thought I made it clear in my statement, but apparently I should repeat it now. The United States believes that the situation in East Timor is something that is separate and distinct, that we do not support the break-up or in any way the disintegration of Indonesia. We support a strong, stable, united, democratic Indonesia. And that is the position of the United States government.

Q: In this democratic transition, what kind of step...would it be a step forward, step backward...sideways...if a military person were to become president or vice president as a result of the MPR session? What would the U.S. reaction to that be?

Secretary Cohen: I do not tread where even angels fear to tread, and I would not in any way want to comment on the political situation in Indonesia. It is up to the Indonesian people to make that determination. I think what the rest of the world will look to is whether or not there is a genuine commitment to achieve reform in the sense of subordinating the military to civilian control; whether there will be the promotion and support for human rights; respect for individuals; restraint on the part of the military in dealing with its own citizens; whether or not it will, in fact, support the transition in East Timor, prevent cross border raids from taking place on the part of militia groups in West Timor, and basically demonstrate that it is committed to the values of a democratic society. Those are the indices that I think the international community will look to.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I am just back from East Timor, where there is growing concern about the situation on the border in West Timor. You brought it up briefly, but I want to get a little more clarification. Military sources in particular are concerned about growing activity on the border, perhaps militias gearing up for armed attack across the border where the UN mandate does not extend. Did you specifically discuss this with Mr. Wiranto today, and is it your understanding that the TNI, the Indonesian army, should be having an active and affirmative role in keeping those militias from crossing the border?

Secretary Cohen: It is my belief that the Indonesian government and its military should take whatever steps necessary to prevent militias in West Timor from launching any cross-border attacks against East Timor. And I made it very clear, and I think General Wiranto and others that I talked with today understand that.

Q: Last week Sadako Ogata talked with many of the same people you met, including the president. So did Julia Taft, the Undersecretary of State for Humanitarian Affairs, and they received many of the same assurances that you received, that there would be cooperation. Specifically, they were told that they would have access to the refugee camps in West Timor. And yet this week, when the UNHCR sent its team of people into West Timor, went to the governor, asked for an escort to go into the camps, they were flatly denied. In the meantime, people continue to be executed every night as far as we're aware. My question is, how long does the Indonesian government have to act on these rather pretty promises that they have been making to you?

Secretary Cohen: Well, I think the sooner the government acts, the better, certainly. The world community, the international community, is watching, and to the extent that they see a failure on the part of the Indonesian government to measure up to its verbal commitments, that will carry the consequences that I mentioned before. You have been reading about reports that there has been some reluctance on the part of investors to invest in Indonesia. That will have an impact upon the government. The currency, perhaps, will continue its fluctuation, depending upon what is perceived to be the policy of the government. So all of that will be the consequence that will flow from a failure to take action. I think that the government needs to take immediate action, but the world community, the international community will make a judgement in terms of whether it's a good-faith effort to meet up to these responsibilities.

Q: Can you elaborate your statement earlier that the Indonesian government must shackle its military and advance democracy or face the prospect of political isolation and economic sanctions? Is that including military sanctions? And what is your response to the Indonesian military brutality in shooting the students last week? Thank you.

Secretary Cohen: I have already indicated, we have suspended all of our military programs with Indonesia. I believe that other governments have also passed resolutions that would stop the exchange of any of the military equipment, or transfer of that equipment to Indonesia. So there already is international action being taken. In addition to the economic consequences, there is a question about investment in Indonesia, whether it is seen as a stable, prospering type of economy that is committed to free enterprise and to democracy. And so the international marketplace will also make a determination. And that is what is taking place today.

Q: Sir, I would like you to have a look at another region in flames. Moscow says that it is bombing terrorist bases in Chechnya, and will be doing that maybe for one or two more weeks, and ground troops have been sent to Chechnya. What is your reaction? What is the reaction of your government? Thank you very much.

Secretary Cohen: I believe that President Clinton and the administration have issued a statement urging restraint on the part of the Russian government. But this is something, of course, that the Russian government will have to decide for itself in terms of whether or not it can prevent the kind of acts of terrorism being directed against the Russian people.

It happened, just a few weeks ago, to be in Moscow when one of the bombs went off destroying an apartment building killing some eighty or more people. This is something new for the Russian people to have to contend with, that now acts of terrorism are taking place on Russian soil, and so it's somewhat understanding that they are reacting to try to prevent acts of terrorism from continuing on their soil. But, nonetheless, the policy of our government and the position of our government is to urge restraint on the part of the Russians in how they cope with this increasing level of terrorism being directed against their people.

Q: What evidence have you been able to collect, in terms of intercepted cables, or other stuff from the Defense Department, or the Defense Intelligence Agency, or related agencies, and will you be giving that evidence to any international tribunal, and if you could be specific in any cases?

Secretary Cohen: Well, it's my policy not to comment on intelligence matters. I can only say that we certainly will cooperate in any way we can with those who are investigating abuses on the part of elements in the military.

Q: Regarding West Timor, and the UN mandate. As far as you see it, if West Timor is used as a base to start attacking or destabilizing East Timor, what is the UN mandate as far as securing the border or even taking steps into West Timor.

Secretary Cohen: The UN mandate of course goes to East Timor, not to West Timor. To the extent there are activities, cross border raids and military actions, that certainly would pose a problem for the Indonesian government as well. There is a question of "hot pursuit," whether or not if forces, peacekeeping forces, UN peacekeeping forces come under attack, as to whether or not they could pursue those who are attacking them. But I think that we ought not to speculate at this point what the reaction of the UN force may be. Obviously, force protection is something that every military force would want to insist upon, that they would want to insist that their forces be able to defend themselves.

Q: What's your reading on the situation in West Timor as far as the build-up of troops?

Secretary Cohen: At this point, there has been no significant action taken. I expressed concern yesterday during a press conference in Australia that we are concerned that there may be plans underway to try to reverse the results of the referendum, to try and either intimidate or assault the peacekeeping forces in East Timor and that is the reason why I called upon the Indonesian Government to participate in preventing that from taking place.

Q: How does the Indonesian military have to change to be said it's under civil law, civilian control, and how do you want the military to act from tomorrow because of the MPR's starting?

Secretary Cohen: We would hope that the military would, in fact, be subordinate and subject to the governance and the rule of civilian officials. That is something that every democracy must insist upon and Indonesia, as it makes its transition, must insist upon it also. Meaning not only must their direction--clear political and military guidance--be given to the military, but there must be obedience or adherence on the part of those in the military to that guidance. What...I can't give you specific examples or list them other than to say that military rule, or military forces, must be subject to the law and the rule of law passed by the parliament and implemented by executive order or elsewhere.

Q: Does that mean that you want the minister of defense to be a civilian?

Secretary Cohen: Well, that's up to, really, Indonesia. I think that basically it's important to have a civilian head of a defense department or a ministry of defense but each country must decide for itself whether it wishes to have a military officer assume that position. Ordinarily, one would like to see a civilian in charge of a ministry of defense, but there are many countries who still have military officers, and it can function. A lot will depend upon the perception on the part of the Indonesian people. It seems to me that there is a deep and heartfelt desire on the part of the Indonesian people to make sure that the military does in fact respond and abide by civilian rule and so that may be one of the ways in which that is assured to the Indonesian people.

Q: Sir, Mr. Secretary, would you please explain to us why you have come to Indonesia at this particular time when we are about to elect into office our new president? Is this an intervention tendency of America in Indonesian domestic politics as a signal of U.S. shift, U.S. policy that is non-pragmatic?

Secretary Cohen: The reason that I came to Indonesia and to the other countries in the region...I didn't just come to Indonesia, but I will be going on and visiting Thailand and the Philippines and Singapore as well. And the reason I came now is because I had to cancel, or postpone, a prior scheduled visit to Indonesia by virtue of the conflict in Kosovo. And so, the timing was one in which this was a time that I could travel and take into account the other countries that I had to visit. In addition to that, of course, as a result of what has taken place in East Timor, we have the United States, which has committed some support personnel, some 260 to date, support personnel to serve in Australia and also, to some degree, in East Timor itself. And so it gave me an opportunity to visit those troops yesterday. So, basically, it was a trip that had been scheduled before and had to be postponed. I was able to do it now and visit all of the countries that I can in the region in a very short time. I tried to make it clear by my visit today that there should be no political implications drawn from it. I met with your present officials and those who are running for high office and basically tried to indicate that I am here to discuss what I believe to be not only in Indonesia's interest but that of the United States and other countries as well.

Q: Sir, there are new reports that U.S. troops took part in massacres of civilians during the Korean War. Could you comment on that please?

Secretary Cohen: I am not aware of any evidence that would support or substantiate those claims. But to the degree there is any substantive information that is forthcoming then certainly we will look at it. But I believe that this has been examined on several occasions in the past. I am not aware that there is any information that would corroborate or support that.

Q: Sir, you met Mrs. Megawati, president of PDI, this morning. Does that mean that the United States government will support Megawati as Indonesia's next president? Thank you.

Secretary Cohen: The fact that I visited Mrs. Megawati was to show that I am not here to endorse anyone, that I was here to meet with leaders, both holding office and those who seek office, but I am not here to endorse her candidacy or that of President Habibie or anyone else. I am here to talk to as many people as possible in a very short period of time, but the very fact that I tried make it clear that my visit here is not political in nature in terms of participating or trying to influence any partisan politics. This is something for the Indonesian people, and no one should draw any conclusion that I am seeking to lend support to one candidate or the other. What I really wanted to talk about is the importance of East Timor and the success of East Timor's transition to an independent democracy is very important to all of the people in Indonesia for what the implication will have for the future.

Q: Sir, do you agree with the vice president from the military? As you know the Golkar party has General Wiranto as its vice president candidate? And a second question, following to the earlier, why only PDI-P that you met, not the other political parties?

Secretary Cohen: Well, I am told that there are some 48 political parties, and I really couldn't manage to meet with all the representatives. I tried to meet with as many as I could in a very short period of time and to make clear to everyone that my visit is not to endorse or influence individuals, but rather to state a position that I believe is certainly in our interests and that of the Indonesian people in resolving the situation in East Timor so we can get back on track. I do not want to see the shadow that has been cast over Indonesia as a result of East Timor to be long-lasting. I think it is very important that we get back to having good relations, normal relations with Indonesia, that Indonesia's economy starts to flourish and so that the people of Indonesia can enjoy a level of prosperity that is essential to their well-being.

Q: Will the United States Government insist on prosecutions of responsible officers for the violence in East Timor before restoring normal military relations? And a quick second question, how quickly will Ambassador Roy be replaced?

Secretary Cohen: I am told that his replacement, Mr. Gelbard, will be here on Monday. With respect to whether the United States will insist upon the prosecution of individuals, of course, we want to see a fair enquiry conducted and as soon as that can be conducted, the better. But I think that everyone will be watching to see whether or not individuals who were involved in either aggravated assaults, killings, other types of really inexcusable and shameful behavior are dealt with as soon as possible. What that timeframe will be, I can't say at this point, but it is something that will be very important before full relations can be established.

Q: Sir, there is a growing climate of sentiment against foreigners on the streets of Jakarta and other Indonesian cities. I am wondering whether, in your discussions, any of the government officials you spoke to complained about interference by the United States. The other half of that question would be, that there is also growing sentiment that the Australian-led INTERFET is being in some way brutal. There are a large number of Indonesians who believe that the Australian forces have tortured militiamen in East Timor. Prime Minister Mahathir of Malaysia yesterday at the United Nations said the Australians had been too aggressive. What is your feeling on that point as well?

Secretary Cohen: I have not seen any evidence that would support allegations that the Australian peacekeepers are engaging in brutal behavior. In fact, it appears that to us that those charges have been manufactured, but I would also indicate that we would expect the peacekeepers to be very aggressive in confronting anyone who is armed, and poses a threat to them. That is the very purpose of the peacekeepers going in: to make sure that those individuals in East Timor are able to come back to their homes to the extent that homes even exist any longer and not be threatened by marauding gangs. And so I would expect the peacekeepers, and they are not simply Australians, but the multinational peacekeeping force, would act in a very aggressive manner to disarm those who might pose a threat to either the peacekeepers or to the people in East Timor.

Q: Sir, do you think that the Indonesian presidential elections should be accelerated?

Secretary Cohen: That is something I really can't comment on in terms of the elections is something up to the Indonesian people.

Q: So, you did not bring any message urging the president to accelerate that timetable?

Secretary Cohen: I did not.

Q: Before you came to Jakarta, I heard that you visited Darwin, Australia. Did you have any specific conversation with Mr. Howard to talk about Indonesia?

Secretary Cohen: I did not have a conversation with the Prime Minister, Prime Minister Howard. I did have not only conversations, but traveled with the Defense Minister, John Moore. And we did address our respective troops not only American and Australian, but French, and Singaporean and Thais and others who were in Darwin. And what we did is to express our thanks for their sacrifice and their commitment to helping people who have been traumatized, certainly in East Timor.

Q: Does it include about the brutality INTERFET's peacekeeping in East Timor?

Secretary Cohen: The what kind of?

Q: The aggressive and... You know, some troop in East Timor from INTERFET overreacting in East Timor. What do you think about that?

Secretary Cohen: I believe that the peacekeeping force must go into East Timor and make sure that those individuals who have been killing and attacking unarmed innocent civilians are not able to do that. And I believe that they should make sure that if they come under attack or are threatened with attack that they take appropriate action, which may be quite aggressive. And so, that's the purpose of the peacekeeping mission, to keep the peace, and to make sure that people, gangs and thugs who have been engaged in the slaughter of innocent people are not able to do that.

Q: Just one final question: for the last 32 years the U.S. has extended support to the regime of President Souharto, and under his rule it was also a military-backed rule, and those violations that have now the world spotlight occurred during his time, and yet the U.S. did extend its support to the Souharto regime. So, could I just ask you why now the U.S. come and spoken up against military brutality in this country and what is the guiding light behind the shift in stance to its U.S. support in certain policies? Thank you.

Secretary Cohen: Well, the United States feels very strongly that we support human rights, and whatever has taken place in the past I think that the fact is that you are moving into a new era and the world is moving into a new millennium as well. We will continue to support strongly the promotion of human rights and speak out against militaries that are in fact causing harm to individuals or brutalizing them. Thank you very much.

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