Subject: NYT: Indonesia Wants to Acquit General in Human Rights Case

Received from Joyo Indonesian News

The New York Times Sunday, June 8, 2003

Indonesia Wants to Acquit General in Human Rights Case


JAKARTA, Indonesia, June 7 — Indonesian prosecutors told a human rigghts court this week that one of the nation's most senior military officers was not guilty of crimes against humanity during the violence that engulfed East Timor four years ago, and they asked that he be acquitted of all charges.

The unusual request means that a government tribunal established last year under international pressure to try Indonesian soldiers for their brutality against East Timorese independence groups is unlikely to pass any serious sentences.

The prosecution's move was interpreted as one of several signs of the reassertiveness of the military here, and of the continuing lack of serious civilian control of an army that ruled until the collapse of President Suharto's government in 1998.

The Bush administration, eager to increase American influence in the world's most populous Muslim country and to keep Indonesia on its side during the campaign against terror, has made initial steps to renew relations with the military after ties were cut because of human rights abuses in East Timor.

The prosecution told the special tribunal on Thursday that Maj. Gen. Adam Damiri, who was the commander in East Timor at the time of a military-backed rampage by militia groups in September 1999, should be acquitted of all charges.

General Damiri is now chief of operations for the Indonesian military. He failed to appear at four of his scheduled court dates for sentencing proceedings on the East Timor charges because of his duties organizing the army's new offensive against separatist rebels in the northern province of Aceh.

As one reason for a not-guilty verdict, the prosecutor, Sarani Hozie, said that General Damiri had been awarded a medal for his service in East Timor. "Moreover, the defendant is polite in court and never obstructs the proceedings," Mr. Hozie said.

In one hearing at the tribunal, where the public space is usually packed with uniformed members of the army, a judge submitted a copy of a letter written by General Damiri to his superior on the success of the military-backed militia that was attacking pro-independence groups. The letter was not included in the prosecutors' case.

Another hearing for General Damiri will be held next month. It would be highly unlikely that the judges would rule against the prosecution's request, lawyers here said.

General Damiri was the most senior and last of 18 soldiers and militiamen, as well as a few civilians, who were brought before the court.

Of these defendants, 12 have been acquitted. The five who were convicted included two soldiers, the most senior of whom, Brig. Gen. M. Noer Muis, received a sentence of five years in prison. That term was less than half the minimum sentence called for under the statutes. The five who were convicted remain free pending appeals.

The special tribunal did not indict the former Indonesian military chief, Wiranto, who was the top commander at the time of the East Timor killings. United Nations officials estimated that more than 1,000 pro-independence East Timorese were killed in the rampages organized by military-backed militia after a United Nations referendum.

The United States ambassador to Indonesia, Ralph L. Boyce, criticized the request for a not-guilty verdict in the Damiri case.

"While reserving judgment until the final verdict is reached, we find it particularly disappointing that it was the prosecution that sought a not-guilty verdict in this case," Mr. Boyce said.

The Pentagon allocated $4 million for counterterrorism training to the Indonesian Army last year. In addition, Congress approved $400,000 for Indonesian officers to go to the United States under the prestigious International Military Education and Training program.

But last month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said the $400,000 should be put on hold until the Indonesian military and government gave better cooperation to the F.B.I., which is investigating the murders of two American teachers in the province of Irian Jaya last year. An inquiry by the Indonesian police into the killings concluded that it was highly probable that the army was involved in their deaths.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who is running for a second term next year, sees the military as the institution that enforces national unity.

Since President Megawati came to power in 2001, the military has declined to dismantle its system of territorial commands that places military officials in parallel positions with civilians through most layers of provincial and village government.

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