Subject: RT/AFP: Wiranto questioned on Timor violence, says misperceived

AFP: Wiranto says Timor violence exaggerated, misperceived

Wiranto praises Indonesia role in E. Timor mayhem.

JAKARTA, May 23 (Reuters) - Indonesia's former military chief Wiranto on Tuesday praised his forces handling of the chaos in East Timor after last year's independence ballot even though the territory was left in ruins and most of its population displaced.

The retired general was speaking after being questioned for the second time by state investigators over his role in last year's crisis in East Timor when he headed the armed forces.

"The unrest was put to an end in five days. This was our achievement because we were able to avoid a civil war and managed to protect vital facilities," Wiranto told reporters.

The former general, sacked from the cabinet earlier this year, played down the level of destruction there saying only four of the territory's districts were caught up in the violence.

His comments are sharply at odds with most accounts of the violence which erupted last September after the announcement that the majority of East Timorese had voted to break from 24 years of often brutal Indonesian rule.

Hundreds of people are thought to have been killed and most of the territory's infrastructure destroyed as pro-Jakarta militiamen, with backing from Indonesian troops, went on a violent rampage of retribution.

They pushed most East Timorese from their homes. Tens of thousands are still living in refugee camps across the border in Indonesian-controlled West Timor .

Indonesia, under intense international pressure to bring its troops and the militias under control in the former Portuguese colony, eventually allowed foreign troops to take over.

It was the first time Indonesia had allowed foreign troops onto what it considered its territory, a move that caused deep national embarassment and further tainted the military's battered image.

Indonesia is under heavy international pressure to bring those responsible for the violence to court. It has said that trials of senior soldiers over the violence could begin in two months.

Wiranto was linked to the violence by an official human rights commission. He was questioned for seven hours on Tuesday, the second time in a week.

One of his lawyers, Yan Juanda, told reporters that Wiranto was questioned as a witness into the East Timor probe. He called the current investigation "more objective" than the one by the human rights fact finding team.

Wiranto says Timor violence exaggerated, misperceived JAKARTA, May 23 (AFP) - The head of the Indonesian armed forces at the time of last year's Timor violence, retired General Wiranto, said here Tuesday that the scale of the violence had been exaggerated.

Speaking after being grillled for seven hours at the attorney general's office over the unchecked rampage in the former Indonesian territory, Wiranto said apportioning blame would be easy especially since the violence had been greatly exaggerated.

"Everything is clear. There were victims, witnesses ... so actually it is very easy to resolve," Wiranto told journalists.

"What makes it difficult is because ... we treat the East Timor incident as if it were very big," he said.

Wiranto and 32 other officers and officials have been named by Indonesia's national human rights commission for suspected involvement in or responsibility for the wave of violence in East Timor before, during and after the UN-conducted self-determination ballot on August 30.

The general, who is now retired, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and insisted that he had been actively promoting peace in the former Portuguese colony prior to and after the ballot there.

After the release of the ballot result -- three-to-one in favour of independence -- angry pro-Jakarta militias backed by the Indonesian army went on an unchecked rampage, razing whole towns and villages.

Hundreds of thousands of people fled or were forced to flee at gunpoint to Indonesian-controlled West Timor , and the UN approved the dispatch of Australian-led troops to halt the reign of terror.

Wiranto also said he did not feel he had been turned into a scapegoat.

"What happened (to me) is due to a wrong perception and deviations in the East Timor case," he said.

He said violence "is not new" to East Timorese and that Indonesia's role in the territory was to "try to mediate" in the conflict between rival factions there, which had been fighting against each other since Portuguese colonial administration left East Timor in 1975.

Indonesia invaded in the same year.

He said only four of the 13 districts in East Timor were damaged by the militia rampage and vital installations such as telecommunications and electicity were still intact.

The UN Human Rights Commission has conducted its own inquiry into the violence in East Timor and recommended convening an international war crimes tribunal to prosecute the suspects.

However, it has said it is waiting to see if the Indonesian process brings the guilty to justice.

President Abdurrahman Wahid, who ordered Wiranto's suspension as security minister in February until the legal process over the East Timor violence is completed, has said he would pardon him if he was found guilty.

But the government has said it would not be bound by any UN move to initiate prosecution proceedings through an international court.


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