Subject: GU: West turns blind eye as Indonesia's brutal military escapes justice

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

Guardian Weekly [UK] August 29, 2002

Inside Asia

West turns blind eye as Indonesia's brutal military escapes justice

John Aglionby

For anyone who is not in Indonesia's military it must be hard to understand why Colonel Herman Sedyono is not in jail. There are many eye witnesses who can attest to his involvement in the reign of terror wrought by the Indonesian forces and locally recruited East Timorese militias in and around the town of Suai before and after the territory voted to separate from Jakarta in August 1999.

Col Sedyono, who was the chief administrator of the town and surrounding district at the time, is most specifically implicated in a massacre of about 30 people, including three priests, in the town's church after the result of the ballot was announced.

According to Ian Martin, who was head of the United Nations mission organising the East Timor referendum, his conviction should have been all but a formality. "That was the worst individual massacre in East Timor in 1999," he said. "If you were going to get convictions of Indonesian military officers systematically acting with the militias to murder East Timorese, that was the case par excellence."

Yet Indonesia's ad hoc human rights tribunal, created to prosecute the 18 soldiers, police officers, militia leaders and civilian officials indicted for alleged crimes in the destruction, decided to acquit Col Sedyono and four senior colleagues of all charges.

While the absurdity of the verdict can be dissected, it is highlighted by the fact that Col Sedyono's superior, the civilian governor Abilio Soares (an East Timorese), was convicted the previous day for not preventing his subordinates from participating in crimes against humanity.

Most observers believe that a deal has been done, and that while others are expendable the military, for the most part, will get off the hook thanks to its strong political clout. Thirteen trials are still ongoing, and no independent observers expect future verdicts to veer far from the path laid down by the first batch.

What is more worrying for human rights activists hoping to see the brutal Indonesian military end its decades-long ability to act with impunity is that the charades being played out in the sweltering Jakarta courtrooms are not the only indications that the armed forces are being rehabilitated without having to undergo the expected radical reform.

More than 3,000km northwest of Timor lies Aceh, the province on the northern tip of Sumatra where separatists have been fighting for the past 26 years. Thousands of innocent civilians have been killed, mostly in the past decade, and many more have known torture, abuse and destruction of their property at the hands of the military - all in the name of suppressing the rebels. Only a handful of perpetrators of crimes against humanity have been brought to justice, and few have received punishments fitting their crimes. That record is unlikely to change while the government is desperately beholden to the military to end the Aceh crisis.

This month the Indonesian cabinet gave the separatists until the end of the Islamic fasting month, or 15 weeks, to accept the wide-ranging autonomy given to the province last year as the final solution. If they refuse they face the imposition of martial law and an even more intensive military operation than that already in progress by the 30,000 troops in the area.

The government's apparent desire to go in with all guns blazing is perhaps best demonstrated by its reticence to attend peace talks organised by the Switzerland-based Henri Dunant Centre, which is mediating between the two sides. Considering the brutality of the last period of martial law in Aceh, from 1991 to 1998, such an apparently unstoppable rush to deliver more of the same should be ringing warning bells internationally. But it is not doing so, and for one important reason: the United States wants to keep Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, on side in its global war on terror.

For proof one only need turn to the opinion delivered by the US state department's senior lawyer in the case of 11 Acehnese who are suing the world's largest oil company, Exxon Mobil, for involvement in alleged human rights abuses in and around its massive gas plant in Aceh. When asked by the judge in the case - which is being heard in the US - to assess what implications it might have on US-Indonesian relations, the lawyer, William Taft, said the department was always concerned about allegations of human rights abuses.

But in what the Indonesian military can only view as a green light to go forth and oppress he added: "US counter-terrorist initiatives could be imperiled in numerous ways if Indonesia and its officials curtailed cooperation in response to perceived disrespect for its sovereign interests."

Without waiting for meaningful reform, Washington is also starting to roll back the almost complete curtailment of military-to-military relations, although, to be fair, full ties and arms sales are still far from being re-established. No other nation is sounding the alarm either, preferring to take a wait-and-see approach. Such appeasement is likely to play right into the Indonesian military's hands; it is masterful at doing just enough to avoid international opprobrium while having a virtual free rein on the ground.

The lone dissenting voice is that of the UN's human rights chief, Mary Robinson, who said last weekend while in East Timor that she was dissatisfied by the tribunal verdicts in Jakarta and would probably be calling for an international tribunal.

How far her campaign gets in the next few months will speak volumes about how necessary the generals in Jakarta feel it is to change their ways.

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