Declassified U.S. Papers Spark Indonesian Rebuke
By Alan Sipress
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, July 18, 2004; Page A20
JAKARTA, Indonesia -- The recent publication of declassified U.S. documents by a private Washington-based research group, raising questions about Indonesia's takeover of disputed territory 35 years ago, has provoked charges in Jakarta that the U.S. government must be behind the revelations.
The charges, aired last week by members of the parliament's international relations and military affairs committee, underscore distrust in Indonesia about U.S. intentions at a time when bitterness toward the United States is high because of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The documents released by the private National Security Archive indicate Nixon administration officials concluded in 1969 that a vote on independence for western Irian Jaya province was rigged by Indonesia in its favor. But the U.S. government records also reveal that despite this assessment, Henry Kissinger, then the national security adviser, counseled President Richard Nixon to express understanding about Indonesia's annexation of the resource-rich area now known as West Papua, during a visit to Jakarta.
"What is the motive and what's going on behind the scenes? Why now, suddenly, does the U.S. government raise this issue with us?" asked Djoko Susilo, a legislator on the committee.
Susilo and his colleague, committee chairman Ibrahim Ambong, said that the publication appeared timed to coincide with their country's current presidential election campaign and could be an effort by U.S. officials to meddle in Indonesia's internal affairs. Susilo added he had asked Indonesia's foreign minister to provide the committee with an explanation of U.S. motives.
In Washington, a State Department official said the U.S. government played no role in the decision to publish the documents.
Meanwhile, Thomas S. Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, said Indonesian suspicions were based on a misunderstanding of how the documents came to be published. He said the National Security Archive, based at George Washington University, had been collecting declassified U.S. government documents related to Indonesian for more than a decade.
The White House and State Department documents pertaining to U.S. policy on West Papua were declassified by the U.S. government between 1996 and 2002 under an executive order requiring the release of most diplomatic records after 25 years, Blanton said. They were obtained by an Archive researcher two years ago. He said the organization decided to publish the declassified documents this month to mark the 35th anniversary of the West Papua referendum.
Blanton said his researchers had focused on Indonesia because it was "one of the most important countries in the world and the United States has had an outstanding and often difficult relationship with Indonesia."
That relationship has grown testier in recent months. A member of President Megawati Sukarnoputri's cabinet alleged recently that the Washington-based National Democratic Institute and former President Jimmy Carter, who led an observer mission, had interfered with the presidential election, according to an account in the Indonesian newspaper Kompas. Last month, Indonesia expelled Sidney Jones, a U.S. citizen and Jakarta representative of the International Crisis Group, a private research group, after she wrote a series of reports critical of the government's security policies, including in contested areas such as West Papua and Aceh.
West Papua has been an especially sensitive matter for Indonesian officials, who intermittently accuse foreigners of supporting separatists in the rugged and remote territory, which is slightly larger than California and rich with reserves of gold, copper, oil and natural gas.
Under a deal brokered by the United States in 1962, Jakarta agreed to conduct a referendum in the former Dutch colony to decide whether it would join Indonesia or become independent.
But, according to the newly published documents, U.S. diplomats concluded that many West Papuans were hostile toward Indonesia and suggested that the Jakarta government could not win a fair and open vote. Indonesia, which was administering the territory, ultimately discarded the idea of a general plebiscite, instead polling hand-picked tribal and community leaders, who rejected independence in 1969.
This process coincided with a visit by Nixon to Indonesia, a Cold War ally. According to a newly released White House memorandum, Kissinger told him that if Indonesian officials raised the issue of the referendum, "you should tell them that we understand the problems they face in West Irian."
In an interview last week, Susilo blamed Bush administration officials, particularly those he labeled neo-conservatives in the White House and Pentagon, for releasing the documents in what he called an effort to undermine Indonesia. He said the officials sought to build on the precedent set by East Timor, which won independence from Indonesia in May 2002, with international backing.
"They think they were successful on the issue of East Timor and now they want to work on Papua," he said.
He added that the publication of the document also appeared to be an attempt to sway the outcome of elections though he did not offer details. The first round of voting was held July 5 and a runoff, likely between Megawati and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, her former chief security minister, is scheduled for Sept. 20.
R.K. Sembiring Meliala, a parliamentary committee member, said the documents portrayed the 1969 referendum inaccurately. A former Indonesian military commander in West Papua, he said the territory's residents had been anxious to become part of Indonesia.
"A certain group within the U.S. government has the intention" to support separatists in West Papua, Meliala said. "This is a threat to the unity of the republic of Indonesia."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company