On January 11,
near the town of Timika in the Papua province, Indonesian police
from the American-trained Special Detachment 88 and working in
close cooperation with the U.S. FBI arrested 12 Indonesians who are
suspected in the murder of two American teachers. The capture of
these fugitives is an enormous boost to U.S.-Indonesian relations
and reflects growing cooperation in law enforcement between the two
In August 2002, a
group of men in military uniform ambushed ten American
schoolteachers and a six-year-old, all living in Papua, and their
Indonesian escort as they returned from a picnic. The assailants
fired almost 200 rounds of M16 ammunition into the teachers'
vehicles, killing Ricky Lynn Spier, Edwin Burgon, and Bambang
Riwanto and wounding the remaining seven, including Ricky's wife
military (known by its Indonesian acronym, TNI) quickly declared
the ambush a terrorist attack by the Papuan Independence
Organization (known by its acronym, OPM). Police investigators said
that the evidence indicated possible TNI involvement, but they were
unable to complete the investigation because Indonesian law does
not provide for police jurisdiction over TNI. When the FBI tried to
investigate, TNI refused to cooperate, spurring Congress to cut off
military engagement with Indonesia.
congressional sanctions and Indonesia's successful transition to
democracy, TNI began to cooperate with the FBI. In June 2004, the
Justice Department issued an indictment against Anthonius Wamang,
an Indonesian citizen known to have contacts with both OPM and TNI.
Despite Wamang's possible TNI affiliation, the FBI stated that
there was no evidence of TNI complicity in the ambush.
Because of the
mafia-like nature of TNI internal security operations prior to
Indonesia's transition to democracy, Wamang's trial could be a
public relations problem for TNI. Already the controversy
surrounding the Timika massacre has forced TNI generals to reveal
once-secret sources of income, including $20 million from Freeport
Mines in Papua-where the murdered American teachers worked-for
protection. What is remarkable and encouraging about Wamang's
arrest is that the trial may reveal even more skeletons in TNI's
closet, and TNI officials are powerless to block the legal
Since the fall of
President Suharto, a kleptocratic former general, in 1998, TNI has
had to accept escalating reforms, such as a civilian Minister of
Defense and surrender of the military's appointed seats in the
national legislature. In another humbling experience, just this
month President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono selected the first Air
Force general to lead the Indonesian military. This post had been
the army's exclusively.
new democratic leaders were reforming the military, they also
transformed the police, with substantial American assistance. The
police formally separated from the military in 2001 and since then
have assumed responsibility for internal security and
counterterrorism. The United States has provided significant
training and equipment to professionalize the force.
The most prominent
U.S.-Indonesian success story is Special Detachment 88. This elite
police unit was formed in 2003, shortly after the October 2002 Bali
bombing. The U.S. contributed an initial $12 million to train and
equip the unit, with millions more pledged to maintain the unit's
readiness. The personnel of Detachment 88 are specially selected by
the government for their physical and mental capabilities and are
vetted by the U.S. Embassy for their respect for human rights.
inception, the unit has captured or killed more than 200 suspected
Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) members, among them Azahari Bin Husin, once
the most wanted terrorist in Asia. Husin, responsible for both Bali
bombings, the Marriot bombing, and an attack on the Australian
Embassy, died in a gun battle in November of last year when
Detachment 88 cornered him. The International Crisis Group
speculates that police pressure and deteriorating popular support
has split JI and only a tiny fraction of the once pervasive group
now actively participates in terrorist activities.
successes in the war on terrorism are a byproduct of the growing
competence of the police. At the same time, the relationship
between U.S. and Indonesian law enforcement has blossomed. For
example, David Nusa Wijaya, an Indonesian fugitive in the United
States convicted of embezzling $139 million from an Indonesian
bank, was finally captured and repatriated this month.
The arrest of
Anthonius Wamang is an important step in the right direction, but
the trial will likely raise new questions about the role and
behavior of Indonesia's security forces prior to 2004. While past
transgressions need to be exposed, they should not overshadow the
tremendous progress now being made by Indonesia's democratic
government to reform the police and TNI.
Dillon is Senior Policy Analyst for Southeast Asia in the Asian
Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.