Subject: GU: Investigations without conviction

The Guardian [UK] Thursday July 18, 2002

Investigations without conviction

Judging by the attitude of the Indonesian authorities, the nation's woeful law enforcement reputation is unlikely to improve in near future, writes John Aglionby

Since the fall of the dictator Suharto, Indonesia's reputation in the field of law enforcement has always been near the bottom of the scale - for instance a British police officer who was meant to stay for 18 months to help improve the local force left half way through his term in despair.

But the presence of two separate visitors to the country this week is highlighting just how woeful the situation is.

Visitor number one is a Dutch police superintendent, Gerrit Thiry. He is leading the Dutch investigation into the murder of Sander Thoenes, the Dutch journalist working for the Financial Times who was killed in the East Timorese capital, Dili, on the afternoon of September 21, 1999, just as the dejected Indonesian army was withdrawing following the nation's overwhelming vote for independence.

Mr Thiry is visiting Jakarta to try and persuade the Indonesian authorities to take a more active interest in the case. Mr Thoenes was riding on the back of a black motorbike through the Becora suburb of Dili when the driver saw soldiers on motorbikes and in trucks coming towards them. He quickly did a u-turn and sped off. The next thing he remembers is hearing shots and then his back tyre went flat.

The bike fell but the driver managed to escape; Mr Thoenes did not. An eyewitness said he saw soldiers standing over the body shortly afterwards and he heard a shot, although he did not see where the shot went.

He later identified one of the soldiers as being a lieutenant in the notorious army battalion 745, which has been held responsible for widespread atrocities in eastern East Timor earlier in the year and was passing through Dili at the time.

When questioned by Mr Thiry, the battalion commander could not satisfactorily account for his actions that afternoon following an incident involving his troops and two other foreign journalists in which their driver was beaten up and their interpreter was taken away and has never been seen since. Mr Thoenes was killed within an hour of that attack.

New video evidence has just come to light which shows a black motorbike with a flat tyre being lifted off a Battalion 745 truck later in the day. An additional nugget of information is that the troops' appearance in the video contradicts what Battalion 745 members told Indonesian investigators they were wearing.

Even without the new evidence Mr Thiry believes there is sufficient reason "to arrest several members of the Indonesian military as suspects and question them as suspects and not witnesses". The Indonesian authorities do not seem to agree.

The attorney general closed the case earlier this year, citing "insufficient evidence" to proceed - despite his officials having access to the witnesses who spoke to the Dutch detectives.

However, after a four-hour meeting yesterday between the Dutch team and officials from the attorney general's office (the attorney general himself could only spare the Dutch detective 20 minutes even though he was given plenty of warning that Mr Thiry had flown halfway round the world to meet him), the case is going to be reopened. In theory.

What this means in practice is anybody's guess. But unless there is a massive sea change in the Indonesian government's political will, the officers of Battalion 745 are unlikely to see their careers interrupted in the near future.

Campaigners looking for signs that the situation might be on the cusp of change for the better are focusing on the other international visitor currently in Jakarta, the United Nations special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Param Cumaraswamy.

Mr Cumaraswamy is in Indonesia because there has been one high-profile case too many involving international companies being on the wrong side of inexplicable verdicts. Among the victims are Canadian insurer Manulife, American energy firm Karaha Bodas, as well as BP and the Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto.

The rapporteur says he is also planning to study the progress of Indonesia's East Timor tribunal - where 18 former government officials, military officers and militia leaders are on trial for crimes associated with the violence in 1999.

Thus far little has come out of the tribunal that inspires confidence and prosecutors have yet to ask for little more than the minimum possible sentence. The first cases are due to conclude in about a month.

But anyone hoping Mr Cumaraswamy's visit will precipitate improvements should not hold their breath. He is not due to submit his report until next April and even if he is critical, the chances of the Indonesian government doing anything about it are not high, if past experience is anything to go by.

Jakarta has mastered the art of rolling out the red carpet for "inconvenient" foreign visitors and then rolling it back up again and forgetting about them after they have left.

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