Arrests in Papua ambush boon to US ties (Bill Guerin, 1/14/06, Asia Times)

An event in the remote Indonesian province of Papua, thousands of kilometers from Washington, seems certain to result in a much stronger position for Jakarta within the already fast-improving relationship between the two countries.

Twelve men, including a local rebel operational commander wanted by the United States for the murder of two American teachers in a 2002 ambush near the giant US-operated Freeport Grasberg copper and gold mine, have been detained. Americans Ted Burcon and Rickey Lean Spier were killed in the attack. […]

Why now?

One clue to the answer to the most obvious question – why did police act now, so long after the incident? – may lie in statements from both governments.

“Seeking justice for this crime remains a priority for the United States, and we are pleased that the Indonesian government also recognizes the importance of this case,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. “We will continue to follow this case closely.”

Commenting on a proposed visit to Jakarta by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Foreign Affairs Minister Hassan Wirayuda noted a “growing and accepted view in the US to see Indonesia in a much broader context rather than in snapshots of events like human-rights violations … and military reform”.

Rice had reinstated full IMET eligibility for Indonesia, and Wirayuda described her planned visit as one that would “underline the importance of the relationship between Indonesia and the US, and the growing appreciation of Indonesia by the US”.

The United States has shown a long-term commitment to post-tsunami reconstruction in Aceh, support for Indonesia’s reform agenda and for the country’s efforts to reform its justice system and military.

The arrests may well lead to Jakarta’s closest ever relationship with Washington as partisan differences in both governments gradually dissolve.

The desire of nations at the margins of the Islamic world–Morrocco, Eritrea, Libya, Turkey, Indonesia, etc.–for better relations with the West, inclusion in the Axis of Good, and liberal reform indicates the weakness of the argument that Islam is inherently and necessarily theocratic.

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