By Will Pollard
The New Zealand Defence force is being challenged to explain the training it provided to an officer from Kopassus, the Indonesian military’s notorious special forces unit.
Major Edwin Sumanta was hosted in New Zealand for a six-month Command and Staff College training course at Trentham last year.
However, a Defence Force spokesperson says the involvement of Major Sumanta in the college's course is too sensitive to comment on, Radio New Zealand International reports.
Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty says “that only raises more alarm bells.”
“This is not just ordinary army personnel, this is a Major from Kopassus which is an organisation which acts unaccountably and has a terrible record of human rights abuses,” says Ms Delahunty
Kopassus has been repeatedly accused of carrying out human rights abuses in Jakarta, East Timor and the troubled territory of West Papua.
Four Kopassus members were convicted in 2003 of strangling to death prominent separatist leader, Theys Eluay.
Despite admitting they killed Mr Eluay after ambushing him and his driver, the heaviest sentence handed down was three-and-a-half years imprisonment.
In a report last year, international NGO Human Rights Watch named the Kopassus unit as being of particular concern.
“Despite significant reforms to the military in recent years, members of Indonesia's security forces –in particular Detachment 88 and the special forces, Kopassus– continue to engage in serious abuses with near-total impunity,” the report says.
Human Rights Watch says there is a pattern of military courts failing “to investigate adequately or to prosecute alleged serious human rights abuses by military personnel.”
Despite the unit’s reputation, in 2010 the United States announced it would resume training Kopassus after a 12-year suspension.
The US cut ties in 1998 following reports that the Kopassus had been involved in killings in East Timor.
Australia similarly resumed military co-operation with Kopassus in 2006 after suspending joint training in 1999, also over concerns about its involvement in abuses.
Ms Delahunty says she has written to the Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman to try and find out more about our military’s involvement with Major Sumanta.
She believes New Zealand should freeze military co-operation with Indonesia until human rights abuses are addressed.
“New Zealand should take a positive role, cut military ties until the military stop being violent towards the population of West Papua.
“We could be urging them to have a mediated peace process with West Papuan leaders who would welcome that opportunity.”
Prime Minister John Key visited Indonesia in April this year, leading a 26-strong business delegation alongside Trade Minister Tim Groser.
During his trip Mr Key met with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as well as a number of Cabinet ministers including Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa.
Mr Key emphasised the importance of good relations between New Zealand and Indonesia.
“Indonesia is New Zealand’s nearest Asian neighbour, and will be an increasingly important partner in years to come,” Mr Key said.
“Indonesia is already our 10th-largest export market, but there is a lot of room to expand that trade, and to deepen the relationship between Indonesians and New Zealanders.”
Ms Delahunty accepts that New Zealand already has strong economic ties to Indonesia, but says the Government should not compromise ethics for trade.
“An ethical Government would be respectfully pointing out to a large trading partner that to have a good trading relationship is vital but it needs to be based on that Government operating in an ethical manner towards other vulnerable communities”, she says.
More violence in West Papua
The news of Major Sumanta’s training in New Zealand has surfaced just as Australian-trained counter terrorism troops have been accused of killing a pro-independence leader in West Papua.
ABC News reports that Mako Tabuni, the deputy head of the West Papuan National Committee was gunned down last week near the town of Jayapura.
Papuan activists say the security forces involved were members of Detachment 88, although this has not been independently confirmed.
Detachment 88 receives training from the Australian military as well as funding and training from the United States.