propped up Suharto despite rights abuses: documents
By P. Parameswaran
29/01/08 --- - WASHINGTON (AFP)
- The United States declassified documents Monday detailing
how Washington propped up ex-Indonesian leader Suharto, who died
at the weekend, at the expense of democracy and human rights.
The documents, declassified following requests under a freedom
of information law, showed the US administration did not use its
leverage to bring Suharto to account during his 32-year reign
until his last months in office.
"One thing that is clear from the tens of thousands of pages of
which we had declassified concerning US ties with Suharto from
1966 to 1998 -- at no moment did US presidents ever exercise
their maximum leverage over his regime to press for human rights
or democratization," Brad Simpson of the National Security
Archive told AFP.
The body, a non-governmental research institute at George
Washington University in Washington, collects and publishes
declassified documents obtained through the US Freedom of
Simpson, who directs the Archive's Indonesia and East Timor
documentation project, said the only time Washington "decisively
intervened" in Indonesia was in 1998, when it was reeling from a
financial meltdown amid unprecedented riots.
Bill Clinton, the Democratic US president at that time, phoned
Suharto about half a dozen times, pressing the Indonesian leader
to adopt a stringent adjustment program demanded by the
International Monetary Fund, according to the documents.
Suharto adhered to the demands of the United States and IMF.
"I think it is indicative of the kinds of pressure US could
bring to bear when it decides that it is in our interest to do
so, but this was done on behalf of international financial
institutions, never on behalf of human rights activists and the
pro-democracy movement in Indonesia," Simpson said.
The declassified documents include transcripts of Suharto's
meetings with Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald
Reagan, as well as Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
They also mirrored US perceptions of Suharto from the earliest
years of his violent rule, including the 1969 annexation of West
Papua, the 1975 invasion of East Timor, and the so-called
"mysterious killings" of 1983-1984.
The United States was a steadfast ally of Suharto for much of
his rule, providing him aid, weapons and diplomatic support as
it regarded him as an effective bulwark against communism.
Suharto made his first visit as head of state to the United
States in May 1970 amid rampant corruption and a major crackdown
on political parties at home but at the White House meeting,
Nixon told the Indonesian leader he was presiding over one of
the "largest democratic countries in the world."
"There are no issues between the US and Indonesia," Kissinger
wrote to Nixon approvingly, "and relations are excellent."
In his talks with President Gerald Ford at the White House five
years later, Suharto brought up the question of Portuguese
decolonization in East Timor and declared "the only way is to
integrate the territory into Indonesia."
Ford gave no response, according to the documents.
There also was no mention of human rights in Indonesia in the
briefing papers of Suharto's meeting with President Reagan in
Two years later, when Vice President George H. W. Bush visited
Jakarta on the heels of an alleged massacre of hundreds of
civilians in East Timor and "mysterious killings" in Indonesia,
the discussions centered largely on US ties with the Soviet
Union and China.
The US embassy in Jakarta estimated that the government had
summarily executed about 4,000 people at that time, documents
Human rights abuses during Suharto's rule included a 1965-1966
crackdown on suspected communists and sympathizers estimated by
historians to have killed at least half a million people.
Following Suharto's death Sunday, he was hailed by the US
embassy in Jakarta as a "historic figure" who "achieved
remarkable economic development."
"Though there may be some controversy over his legacy," Suharto
"left a lasting imprint on Indonesia and the region of Southeast
Asia," the embassy statement read.
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