Subject: SCMP: "Show trials' likely to let off generals

South China Morning Post May 21, 2002

'Show trials' likely to let off generals


Indonesian media greeted the birth of an independent East Timor with congratulations and the stated desire for better ties. But behind the positive rhetoric remains a Government and armed forces determined to avoid responsibility for past abuses in the new nation.

Analysts at the hearings, in which 18 senior Indonesian generals and administrators are being tried in Jakarta for crimes against humanity, say the process will probably end in acquittals - and with more congratulations among the generals for literally getting away with murder.

In its editorial, the Republika daily said: "Full support for the new state and Government in East Timor should be one of the forms of Indonesia's orientations in the future." But, along with the leading daily Kompas, it said East Timor also had a responsibility to "help" Indonesia.

"Now that Indonesia has shown its commitment to co-operate with [East Timor], it is time for President Megawati to seek the commitment of Xanana Gusmao . . . to help free Indonesia from the effects of various problems related to relations between the two sides so far," said Republika.

"For a new page in relations to be smooth and clean . . . there is a requirement, that is, a mutual understanding," Kompas said.

Evidently, Indonesia wants East Timor to let Jakarta's generals off the hook, which ignores the extent of international concern on the issue. Analysts say the extraordinarily large military delegation sent to East Timor on the weekend indicated a similar insensitivity to how Indonesia appears to the world.

"The visit of President Megawati Sukarnoputri to Dili could have been a turning point for Indonesia's international reputation but has turned into a problem of its own," wrote the Media Indonesia daily. "Indonesia keeps stumbling into the same old disease, the disease of blowing up small things and trying to belittle things that should have been big . . . This is a bitter lesson for us," it admitted.

But international observers of the generals' trials doubt if that lesson would be heeded.

They say the judicial process is being perverted to such an extent that the concept of war crimes has already been lost.

Prosecutors who would normally put as strong a case as possible are instead describing "riots" by East Timorese before and after their independence vote in 1999, which required calming by Indonesian troops.

"Regardless of the political aspects of these trials, legally [prosecutors] are already ridiculous," said a diplomat monitoring the trials.

"An attorney making a case would normally bring in the witnesses first to establish that a crime has been perpetrated. Here, they brought in the generals first and have given each of them a chance to blame everything on the United Nations.

"These are merely show trials and I expect the indictments to collapse.

"The Attorney-General has no interest in the case. There is no argument for what they are supposed to be proving, namely, the widespread and systematic pattern of gross human rights abuse," the diplomat said.

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