Subject: ST: Trial will test Mega's ties with military

Straits Times [Singapore] January 3, 2001

Trial will test Mega's ties with military

Court case against high-ranking officers for E. Timor human-rights abuses could erode military support for the President


JAKARTA - The impending trial of army officers involved in human-rights violations in East Timor two years ago will be a major test for President Megawati Sukarnoputri's relations with the armed forces.

The trial - scheduled to take place on Jan 15 before a special court - may strain the President's thus-far cosy ties with the army which has backed her in the transition of power from ousted president Abdurrahman Wahid.

It will be the first time that high-ranking military officers are tried outside of the martial court.

But analysts believe Ms Megawati will strike a delicate balance to retain the military's support while ensuring the trial does not disappoint the international community and human-rights groups demanding justice for the East Timor violence.

Indonesia cannot afford to delay the matter further, because it is a precondition for getting aid from foreign donors as well as for the full resumption of Washington-Jakarta military ties.

The trial could also help the army leadership, which is seeking to improve professionalism and to cleanse its corps of those accused of perpetrating crimes.

Said military analyst J. Kristiadi of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies: 'The armed forces are in a position in which they can no longer ignore the public demand.

'They would support the ad hoc trial as long as it is fairly conducted.'

Nineteen people, including 14 army and police officers, have been named suspects in cases of gross human-rights violations in the months surrounding East Timor's vote for independence on Aug 30.

The officers include Major-General Adam Damiri, who headed the Bali-based Udayana military command overseeing East Timor in 1999, Brigadier-General Tono Suratman and Brig-Gen M. Nur Muisformer, commanders of the Dili military, Colonel Yayat Sudradjat, the former head of the much-feared Tribuana Task Force, and former East Timor police chief Brig-Gen Timbul Silaen.

Former governor Abilio Jose Soare and three pro-Jakarta militia leaders are also among the suspects.

But most human-rights campaigners are sceptical that the trial will be fair and independent, questioning the government's commitment to fighting rights abuses.

They fear that the suspects will go free or get light punishment, as was the case when three United Nations staff were hacked to death in Sept 2000 in West Timor.

In May 2001, three East Timorese militiamen were found guilty of the crime and sentenced to between 16 and 20 months in jail after the court dropped manslaughter charges but upheld charges of 'fomenting violence which resulted in the deaths'.

Said National Commission on Human Rights Secretary Asmara Nababan: 'The government's role - in this case, the Attorney-General's Office - is to provide a strong indictment and proof so that the perpetrators do not get away lightly.'

There is also suspicion that political bargaining is afoot in the selection of judges for the special court.

President Megawati has yet to install a team of five from a panel of 40 that comprises mostly career judges, some academics and activists.

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