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US Resumes Joint Military Training with Indonesia

The United States has taken a significant step toward re-establishing full military ties with Indonesia. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has announced that the U.S. military will resume offering training to the Indonesian armed forces. While Indonesia officials have welcomed the move, rights groups say it sends the wrong message.

Indonesia's involvement in the United States International Military Education and Training program, or IMET, was suspended in 1992, in response to the army's involvement in the massacre the previous year of more than 250 people attending a funeral in East Timor.

Washington hardened its stance in the wake of the violence surrounding East Timor's 1999 vote for independence from Indonesia, and then again after the murder of two American schoolteachers in Indonesia in 2002.

State Department announced Saturday that Secretary Rice had given that confirmation, and IMET could restart. Indonesia has welcomed the move.

"We are happy. I think IMET is strengthening the cooperation between our officers and I think that is useful for both countries," said Andi Mallarangeng, the spokesman for Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The cost of the IMET program, a little over $600,000 is relatively small, but the move has great symbolic significance: it is a sign that Washington believes Indonesia has moved away from its brutal and authoritarian past. It also is an important milepost for the country's strengthening democracy, represented by Mr. Yudhoyono, Indonesia's first directly elected president, who took office last October.

Washington is keen to improve ties with Indonesia, which has the world's largest Muslim population and is an important ally in the war on terrorism.

But human rights groups are unhappy. They say the Indonesian army has failed to bring to justice many past abusers, and that closer military ties with the United States will reduce the pressure for continued improvement.

But supporters of the move point out that there is still an embargo on weapons sales to Indonesia, a block that will take an act of Congress to remove.