Area JCRC lobbies Clinton to cut ties to Indonesia

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The S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council has called on President Clinton to take drastic steps to end the Indonesian paramilitary violence that has devastated East Timor.

In a letter dated Sept. 16, Rabbi Doug Kahn, JCRC executive director, and Dan Grossman, board president, ask the president to suspend all military and economic ties to Indonesia until it provides "credible evidence" that it has curtailed rampant abuses by paramilitary forces.

The letter commends Clinton for moving to sever military ties.

"Our JCRC has been involved with issues of international human rights for many years," Kahn said. "A number of our key lay leaders felt like the deterioration of what was already a bad situation in East Timor required some response from the Jewish community."

Since Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975, an estimated 200,000 residents have been killed in paramilitary violence.

According to a report by the Australia-based East Timor Human Rights Centre, the Indonesian military maintains a death list, targeting non-government organizations, church leaders, resistance members and others. House-to-house searches continue.

The violence has escalated since the East Timorese voted for independence from Indonesian rule on Aug. 30. Two truckloads of refugees were summarily executed at the border of West Timor on Sept. 9, the agency confirmed.

The Australian agency has requested a war crimes tribunal and the immediate arrest of those responsible for the carnage.

The vast majority of the East Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia. But the Indonesian government has attempted to subvert the vote by force, backing brutal attacks by paramilitary forces, human rights agencies claim.

"We are outraged by this campaign of terror, murder and expulsion, including the reported singling out of priests and nuns for execution, along with students and other supporters of independence," the JCRC letter reads.

Although they have received "no materials whatever from our national board," the local JCRC is hoping to inspire its parent organization to take some action of its own, Kahn said.

"The impulse to speak out is partly motivated by times in our history when people were silent in the face of gross human rights abuses," he said. "One of the lessons to be learned is the necessity to speak out forcefully and aggressively when abuses occur."

The JCRC has also contacted area lawmakers in Congress, including Reps. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo), co-founder of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, and Nancy Pelosi (D-S.F.), who "has been the champion of human rights in East Timor," Kahn said.

"We think they are deeply concerned."

The JCRC letter calls for a suspension of economic and military aid to Indonesia, asking that ties not be resumed until "there is a clear indication that Indonesia has taken responsibility for making sure these human rights abuses do not continue."

Clinton has already taken some action to this end, said Kahn.

"What has become clear is that if we do not take steps to prevent gross atrocities, it leads to greater complications in U.S. foreign policy down the road," Kahn said.

In a related matter, Israel had announced in April that it would establish formal relations with Indonesia following Indonesian elections that month.

Israel's ambassador to Singapore reportedly made several unpublicized visits to Indonesia, speaking with political and military officials, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

JTA also reported that Indonesia tapped Israeli military expertise to quash rebels in the early 1990s.

However, since the Indonesian elections, Israel backed away from establishing formal relations in light of escalating violence.

Although he had not seen the JCRC letter, Consul General Daniel Shek of the Israeli consulate in San Francisco said he wishes Israel had formal relations with Indonesia "because I think it is important to have relations with every country in the world, especially those with Muslim populations."

However, he said "Israel is deeply concerned about the situation in East Timor and strongly condemns the killing of innocent civilians," adding that "our government calls on [Indonesia] to put an end to these events through a political process that has already begun."

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.