The United States has lifted an arms embargo against Indonesia, ending a six-year ban on military aid to the world’s most populous Muslim nation imposed due to human rights concerns.
The Bush administration has long argued that isolating Indonesia, which has been hit by several bombings by al-Qaida linked terrorists in recent years, was not in Washington’s strategic interests.
The decision, announced Tuesday in Washington, drew immediate criticism from rights groups.
“President Bush betrayed the untold tens of thousands of victims of the Indonesian military’s brutality in Indonesia and East Timor,” said John Miller, from the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network.
Congress cut ties with Indonesia’s military in 1999 after it was accused of taking part in violence in East Timor during that territory’s break from Indonesia’s rule in a U.N.-sponsored referendum.
Limited ties had been restored under the Bush administration, but the Indonesian government had long lobbied for the removal of all restrictions.
The State Department used a national security waiver to remove the restrictions, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement.
“The administration considers the relationship between the United States and Indonesia, the world’s third largest democracy, to be of the utmost importance,” he said.
He said that the administration planned to help modernize the Indonesian military and support U.S. and Indonesian security objectives, including counterterrorism, but that Washington “remained committed to pressing for accountability for past human rights abuses.”
Efforts to restore ties received a boost after the December tsunami, which killed 130,000 people on Indonesia’s Sumatra Island. The U.S. and Indonesian militaries worked together to deliver aid to victims.
The Bush administration has argued that the ban should be lifted to help build Indonesia into a bulwark against al-Qaida infiltration in Southeast Asia, where the Jemaah Islamiyah terror group has launched several terror attacks in the region.
Indonesia’s underfunded military has long been accused of human rights violations in the course of putting down separatist insurgencies in far flung regions of the sprawling archipelago.