Subject: AP: Rights groups blast indicted general's presidential bid in Indonesia

Also: New Indonesian presidential candidate draws good, very bad reviews

Rights groups blast indicted general's presidential bid in Indonesia

April 20, 2004 11:53pm Associated Press WorldStream

JAKARTA, Indonesia_Indonesia's largest political party picked a retired general indicted for human rights abuses in East Timor as its presidential candidate Wednesday, drawing condemnation from critics who called him a war criminal.

The Golkar Party of ex-dictator Suharto selected Gen. Wiranto _ who rose through the ranks of army to become military chief in the final days of the former strongman's 32-year rule _ to run in Indonesia's first direct presidential elections in July.

Wiranto, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, has been indicted by U.N.-backed prosecutors in East Timor of failing to stop his soldiers and their proxy militias from killing nearly 1,500 people in East Timor in 1999.

Although the indictment has damaged Wiranto's image in the eyes of some voters, he has tapped into an apparent nostalgia for the Suharto era when the economy was prosperous and the country relatively secure.

"Wiranto is the enemy of humanity. If he is elected president, then it is a total failure of democracy in Indonesia," said Jose Luis Oliveira, head of East Timor's leading rights group Yayasan Hak.

Public opinion surveys show that in the race for the top job, Wiranto trails far behind front-runner Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and incumbent President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Nonetheless, Wiranto will likely capitalize on Golkar's political machinery and extensive reach _ it emerged as the largest party in parliamentary elections earlier this month _ and could improve his ratings.

His overnight election as the nominee at Golkar's convention in Jakarta came as a surprise because he beat out the party's chairman, Akbar Tandjung, who had been expected to win.

Many in the party see the charismatic Wiranto as more electable than Tandjung, a party stalwart who has battled numerous corruption charges.

Wiranto's indictment has not had much impact inside Indonesia and is rarely mentioned by the local media. But his nomination caused immediate concern abroad.

"We are dismayed at the Golkar Party's nomination of General Wiranto for president of Indonesia," said the New York-based East Timor Action Network. "Wiranto must stand trial not stand for office."

The Indonesian government has refused to extradite hundreds of indicted soldiers, officers and government officials to stand trial in East Timor over the 1999 violence that accompanied the territories' vote for independence in a U.N.-sponsored referendum.

"Wiranto is responsible ... for the gravest violations of human rights in East Timor and Indonesia," the rights group said in a statement.

It called for the establishment of an international war crimes tribunal akin to those for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda to try officers responsible for the bloodshed.

Wiranto has denied all charges and said they were part of a smear campaign to sidetrack his candidacy.

According to unconfirmed reports, the U.S. State Department has placed Wiranto on its visa watch list, which would bar his travel to the United States.

Still, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and other Bush administration officials have pressed for lifting the congressional ban on military ties with Indonesia, broken off by the Clinton administration because of the bloody rampage by Wiranto's troops in East Timor.

Wolfowitz, a former ambassador to Jakarta, developed close ties with Indonesia's hardline generals and sees the armed forces as important allies against Muslim radicalism in Southeast Asia.

"If he does travel outside Indonesia, Wiranto should be arrested and transferred to East Timor," the human rights group said. "All nations should actively work to bring him to justice.

The July elections will be the first direct election for president. Previously, lawmakers chose the head of state.

In a speech to the convention of Golkar, Wiranto portrayed himself as a decorated military veteran who supported Indonesia's democratic transition and as the only candidate strong enough to hold the country together.

"This is a serious setback to the cause of human rights in Indonesia," said Munir, who heads Jakarta's Imparsial human rights group. "I fear democracy will suffer as a result."


New Indonesian presidential candidate draws good, very bad reviews

April 20, 2004 11:25pm Associated Press WorldStream

JAKARTA, Indonesia_To supporters he is a nationalist hero who can return Indonesia to the glory days of ex-dictator Suharto. Detractors charge he is the most dangerous candidate running for the country's presidency.

Gen. Wiranto's victory in the race for the presidential nomination of Suharto's Golkar party has turned the 56-year-old general, who uses only one name, into a political contender.

A son of a poor teacher in Central Java, Wiranto joined the army and rose through the ranks over three decades to become a key aide to Suharto.

When pro-democracy protesters forced Suharto from office in 1998, Wiranto was credited by many with restraining his troops and supporting democracy.

But in 2000, Wiranto was fired from his position as security minister by former President Abdurrahman Wahid amid allegations he was responsible for human rights abuses in East Timor.

He was indicted last year by a U.N.-funded rights tribunal for allegedly failing to stop Indonesian soldiers and their proxy militias from killing nearly 1,500 people during a U.N.-sponsored independence referendum in 1999.

Wiranto has since been put on a list of those whose visa applications must be vetted in Washington before being granted.

He's responded to the Timor allegations by writing a book titled "Witness in the Storm," hiring two American advisers to help him make his case with the international leaders and made the rounds of embassies in Jakarta.

Domestically, the Timor allegations appear not to hurt his election chances. The Indonesian media rarely refer to them when discussing his candidacy.

Wiranto has dismissed the indictment as part of a campaign to derail his candidacy and Wednesday morning made no mention of it when he celebrated with cheering supporters.

"This is a victory for the Golkar party and a victory for all of us," he said after beating parliament speaker Akbar Tandjung and three others for the nomination. "I am sure that no matter how heavy the task ahead of us, we can face it together."

Wiranto's candidacy has long been discounted because of the rights indictment and fears that international governments would turn their backs on the country if he was elected.

But as Wiranto barnstormed across Indonesia the past six months, he heard calls of "Long Live Wiranto" from his growing band of supporters and was mobbed everywhere he went in the archipelago.

Known for his boyish good-looks and winning smile, Wiranto would woo the crowd at many stops with his singing, including old 1970s standards like "Feelings."

His popularity is partly a reflection of the disenchantment with democratic reforms since the ouster of ex-dictator Suharto, and a perception that associates of the former strongman, including the Golkar Party, are better equipped to bring economic stability and prosperity to Indonesia.

"He is smart, he is calm under pressure. He really wants to be president," said Lt. Gen. Suadi Marrabessy, one of Wiranto's longtime allies in the military and in Golkar. "He will be able to shrug off all the allegations of rights abuses if he is given the chance to explain himself."

Wiranto has promised to crack down on corruption if elected, revive the economy, institute a zero-tolerance policy for terrorism and pull Indonesian troops out of war-torn Aceh and continue negotiations with the separatists rebels there.

Polls, however, show Wiranto trailing far behind the presidential front-runner, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, despite Golkar's victory in April 5 legislative elections.

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