Subject: Pacific Currents: Indonesia is short on justice for East Timor, activists say


Pacific Currents: Indonesia is short on justice for East Timor, activists say

Monday, December 8, 2003


Indonesia is facing criticism at home and abroad over recent developments involving two men linked to human rights abuses in the former Indonesian province of East Timor in 1999.

One man, a police chief accused of failing to prevent violence in East Timor, was appointed last week by the Indonesian government to be the police chief in West Papua, another restive province.

The second man, a notorious East Timorese militia leader, formed a militia group in the West Papua mining town of Timika.

During Indonesia's occupation of East Timor from 1975 to 1999, the Indonesian military was responsible for the deaths of more than 200,000 people, one-third of the population. The United States supplied more than $1 billion in weapons and training from Indonesia's invasion in 1975 through 1991 when Congress, responding to Indonesian human rights violations in East Timor, cut off funding.

After the East Timorese people voted for independence in 1999, the Indonesian military and its militias retaliated by killing more than 1,300 people, raping hundreds and destroying most of the country's infrastructure.

East Timor formally became an independent nation May 20, 2002, largely through United Nations intervention.

Since then, the Pentagon has established funding for a new Regional Defense Counter-terrorism Fellowship Program, which probably will renew training for the Indonesian military, despite Indonesia's granting virtual immunity to the military for crimes in East Timor and despite human rights violations in other provinces.

Timbale Silaen was named last Monday the new head of police in West Papua, where a small group of separatists have been pushing for independence for decades. Silaen was acquitted of the charges last year. To date, only six of 18 Indonesian officials charged in the East Timor violence have been convicted, and critics have called the trials a farce.

Hendardi, the head of Indonesia's Human Rights and Legal Aid Association, said Silaen's appointment showed Jakarta's disregard for due process.

"This is to show the public that the military did nothing wrong in East Timor. It means they do not care about justice," he said.

"The perpetrators (of the violence) are being rewarded."

Militia leader Eurico Guterres was sentenced in November 2002 to 10 years in jail for instigating attacks on pro-independence leaders during East Timor's bloody referendum. He was released pending an appeal, which could take years. Last month, he formed the Laskar Merah Putih, or Red and White Warriors militia, said Elsham, a Papuan human rights group.

"He has 200 members, and they consist of refugees from Maluku, Timor and Sulawesi," said Elsham's Aloysius Renwarin. "The Papuan community is afraid this group will be used to create a conflict."

The 29-year-old militia leader was continuing to sign up members and had asked the local government in Timika to provide the group with an office, Renwarin said.

"We are deeply concerned about this," said John Miller, national director of the East Timor Action Network, an organization formed in 1991 to support self-determination and human rights for the people of East Timor.

Miller, in an e-mailed statement Thursday, said that although the Papuans are increasingly demanding peace zones and negotiation and are emphasizing non-violent means to pursue their struggle, "Jakarta is pursuing harsh repression." He described the latest developments as two more examples of Jakarta's pursuit of a militarized solution, "which, of course, is no solution, and as East Timor showed, only intensifies demands for independence."

"The two men, already indicted in East Timor, should be brought before an international tribunal set up by the U.N.," Miller said. "Instead, they are allowed to roam free and create more havoc."

TAPOL, the Indonesian Human Rights Campaign, based in Britain, said in a news statement Thursday, that the latest moves "renew fears of increased instability and violence in the territory and are a triumph for impunity over justice."

The statement quoted Paul Barber, a TAPOL spokesman, saying, "It beggars belief that persons convicted or strongly suspected of involvement in gross rights violations can resurface in an area of conflict which has suffered from widespread human rights violations over many years -- this demonstrates Indonesia's contempt for justice and its unwillingness to ensure that atrocities are not repeated."

Elsham said it suspected Guterres might have the support of either the central government in Jakarta or local militias to intimidate Papuans who oppose their province being split into two or three provinces.

"Most Papuans oppose the division of the province, so maybe he (Guterres) can influence the Papuan community not to oppose the division," said Renwarin, adding that Guterres had strong ties to President Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, and was appointed head of one of Megawati's civilian security groups in 2000.

Opponents of the plan to divide West Papua say Jakarta has supported the division because it is seen as a way of diluting the Papuan independence movement.

Papuans last week marked the 42nd anniversary of their failed declaration of independence. Since 1961, the armed Free Papua Movement has fought a sporadic guerilla war against the Indonesian military, which formally annexed West Papua in 1962.

P-I foreign desk editor Larry Johnson can be reached at 206-448-8035 or This report includes information from the South China Morning Post.

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