Subject: SMH: Commanders have to be answerable for atrocities

Sydney Morning Herald Saturday, February 12, 2000

Commanders have to be answerable for atrocities


It seems the Wahid Government has won its fight to ensure General Wiranto and the five other accused generals will face an Indonesian court or tribunal - not one constituted by the UN.

The present setting in Jakarta is hardly encouraging, and doesn't deserve the endorsements coming from the US, Europe and Australia.

The sincerity of President Wahid is not in doubt, but his control over the factors that will come into play during the trial process is still much in question.

His reform program is at risk of being slowed because of Indonesia's growing instability, a condition certain to be exploited by the military friends of the generals facing trial. A truly just outcome to the trials is asking too much of the new regime.

Wahid's own pronouncement that he will pardon Wiranto is unfortunate. The command factor is central to war crimes trials, and if Wiranto is let off, what kind of sentences can be handed down to generals like Zacky Anwar Makarim and Adam Damiri, the field commanders? And what then will happen to militia killers such as Cancio and Guterres, who were arguably pawns in a carefully planned strategy of the military?

And while the Indonesian tribunal is likely to focus on events in Timor last year, what happened then was merely the tip of the ugly iceberg that was former president Soeharto's New Order.

The atrocities committed since the invasion of Dili in December 1975 cannot be ignored. Not only were the field commanders never taken to task: most were promoted.

A stint in Timor was an essential field experience ingredient for aspiring members of the general staff - Wiranto had two terms there. Former vice-president Try Sutriso spent a posting in Timor. Yunus Yosfiah, who served as information minister in the Habibie interim government, was a unit commander in Timor in 1976 and in 1978 when tens of thousands of Timorese fell victim of the Indonesian onslaught against opponents of integration.

One general who has been directly accused of involvement in such operations is Adolf Rahala Rajagukguk, until recently Indonesian Ambassador to India. Major Warsito, whose troops killed dozens of Timorese in Dili in December 1975, some of them in public executions, rose to the rank of general and commanded Kostrad (Strategic Forces) before retiring as a provincial governor.

Prabowo Subianto, now in exile in Jordan, won the reputation of a ruthless Timor commander. There is also the shadowy intelligence officer, Colonel J.F.Sinaga, an alleged torturer.

No inquiry of crimes against humanity will be complete without an investigation of the military's gruesome past in East Timor. Major atrocities include mass killings at Lakmaras, near Bobonaro, in 1976, where, according to witnesses, more than 1,000 Timorese in a refugee encampment were killed by rampaging troops. Large-scale killings were also reported at Aileu, Liquica and Maubara in the late 1970s.

Other cases needing investigation include the Creras massacre of 1983, where more than 200 Timorese were reported killed, and the Santa Cruz massacre of November 1991, which claimed more than 250 lives.

We need to find out about these atrocities and why they occurred. Now that East Timor is accessible to investigators it should be possible to assemble a factual account of human rights violations, which would support moves to bring the commanders concerned before an inquiry.

The historical perspective cannot be ignored in the trials of those who commanded troops in Timor last year. The fact that Anwar Makarim, Damiri and others were only apparently following an unchecked tradition may present an Indonesian court with a dilemma. The best solution in these circumstances would be a two-pronged approach.

Indonesia could concentrate on establishing a wide-ranging truth and reconciliation inquiry, with the primary aim of bringing out the truth of the military's exploits in East Timor and elsewhere.

A second tribunal could be established to deal specifically with those indicted as a result of the Indonesian Human Rights Commission report.

It may not be too late to persuade President Wahid to rethink his position on setting up a tribunal, and agree to one staffed jointly by judges from Indonesia and the United Nations.

James Dunn is a former consul to Portuguese East Timor and author of East Timor: A People Betrayed

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