Subject: Laksamana: Two Sides to Seroja Memorial

Two Sides to Seroja Memorial

Laksamana.Net

November 12, 2002

The Seroja Memorial commemorating the Indonesian military's role in East Timor has two meanings: it recognizes the independence of East Timor, but pays necessary tribute to those killed in action in the former province between 1975-1999.

The monument also means that those generals who might want to provoke nationalistic sentiments among veterans and their relatives have lost much of their ammunition.

Commemorating National Heroes Day on Sunday (10/11/02), President Megawati Sukarnoputri finally staked a claim to the hearts and minds of the veterans and their relatives by inaugurating the Seroja Memorial, located inside the compound of Indonesian Military (TNI) Headquarters at Cilangkap, East Jakarta.

When East Timor seceded from Indonesia following the referendum conducted by the United Nation on 30 August 1999, the veterans and the relatives of those killed during military operations since integration into Indonesian in 1975 expressed their feelings of hurt and betrayal by Suharto's successor, then President B.J. Habibie.

"Relatives of soldiers are allowed to visit the memorial anytime," said Armed Forces Commander Gen. Endriartono Sutarto in his speech at the ceremony, also attended by House Speaker Akbar Tanjung, Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Home Affairs Minister Hari Sabarno, National Intelligence Chief A.M. Hendropriyono, and last but not least Megawati's husband, Taufik Kiemas.

Several soldiers who took part in military operations in East Timor also attended.

In the period between 1976-1999, East Timor technically became the business enclave of the high-ranking and middle-echelon military officers, especially the military clique close to former Armed Forces Commander Gen. L.B. Murdani, and former Strategic Reserve (Kostrad) Commander and Suharto son-in-law Lt. Gen. Prabowo Subianto.

This military clique worked to preserve East Timor under a state of military emergency, oblivious of violations of human right such as kidnapping and torture of civilian non-combatants.

In such a situation, a gap became inevitable between the generals and mid-ranking officers who enjoyed their share of questionable business activities and the real soldiers purely driven by the cause to defend the nation.

Indonesia's record in East Timor was colored by the collusion between Murdani and tycoon Robby 'Ketek' Sumanpouw, not least through the coffee monopoly PT Demog.

Megawati apparently has come to the decision that history must be on the side of the warrior, no matter the damage done by their military superiors. The names of 1,527 soldiers, police personnel and civilians who were killed during the operation are engraved on the 23 walls of the memorial.

The message is clear: it is important to remember and pay tribute to the sacrifice of soldiers killed in East Timor, but that is not the same thing as honoring the misdeeds of the generals who created a state within a state. The affairs of these generals led to the strengthening of hostile attitudes from civilians, and ultimately provided support to the pro-independence East Timor group led by Xanana Gusmao.


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