Subject: IPS: War Criminal's Bid for Presidency Could Complicate U.S.-Indonesia Ties

War Criminal's Bid for Presidency Could Complicate U.S.-Indonesia Ties

Jim Lobe, OneWorld US

WASHINGTON, D.C., Apr 23 (OneWorld) The nomination by Indonesia's most popular political party of an accused war criminal to run for the presidency could mark a serious setback to Bush administration hopes of normalizing military relations with East Asia's second most populous country.

Retired Gen. Wiranto, who was indicted by a special United Nations (news - web sites)-East Timor (news - web sites) court for war crimes in connection with the killing of more than 1,400 civilians and the destruction of about 75 percent of the former Indonesian provinces infrastructure five years ago, gained the official presidential nomination earlier this week of the Golkar Party which, during the Suharto (news - web sites) dictatorship, was the Indonesian armed forces political arm.

A Suharto favorite, Wiranto rose to the military's top position in the mid-1990s and reportedly played a role in persuading Suharto to end his 30-year reign in 1998. One year later, however, he was implicated in the army-orchestrated mayhem that followed the overwhelming vote by the East Timorese people in favor of independence from Indonesia, which invaded and later annexed it in 1975.

Golkar should be embarrassed to select someone who has been indicted for crimes against humanity as its presidential candidate, said Brad Adams, who directs the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in New York City.

If Golkar has really reformed itself after the massive rights violations of the Suharto years, it should be distancing itself from its dark past instead of embracing it, he added.

Wiranto, who, like many Indonesians, goes by only one name, is considered likely to try to use his good looks and tough image, as well as the growing nostalgia for the Suharto era, to unseat the incumbent, President Megawati Sukarnoputri, when Indonesians go the polls in their first direct presidential election July 5.

Megawati, the daughter of Indonesia's first president, Sukarno, has declined sharply in popularity over the past two years, largely as a result of a lagging economy, growing corruption, the militarys failure to achieve a clear victory over pro-independence rebels in Aceh province, and the perception that she has not been seriously engaged in governing.

But both Megawati and Wiranto are still considered underdogs to ret. Gen. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the candidate of the newly formed Democratic Party, who served until recently as one of Megawatis chief advisers. In the latest polls, he led by Megawati 44-21 percent.

Although like Wiranto, Yudhoyono made his career in the military, he has long been favored separating the army, which effectively ruled the country through Golkar, during the Suharto dictatorship, from the government and from the many businesses and monopolies it operates. Wiranto, on the other hand, is seen as a promoter of the military's interests in both politics and the economy.

Since coming to office, and particularly since the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Pentagon (news - web sites), the Bush administration has seen Indonesia as a key part of the war on terror and has made little secret of its desire to the restore the close military ties that were effectively suspended under the Clinton administration after the violence that leveled East Timor in 1999.

Since 9-11, the administration has restored some security assistance--mainly in the form of anti-terrorism aid-but Congress has insisted that certain conditions be met before relations can be fully normalized.

In January Congress approved a provision of the 2004 foreign aid bill that maintains a ban on U.S. government financing of weapons sales, export licenses for certain kinds of military equipment, and participation in a State Department-administered military training for Indonesia until Jakarta fully cooperates in the investigation and prosecution of military units believed to have killed two U.S. teachers and their Indonesian colleague in an ambush in West Papua in 2002.

In addition, the bill requires Indonesia to extradite those indicted by the joint UN-East Timor Serious Crimes Unit, conduct a public audit of the military's funds, and prosecute credible cases of serious human rights abuses believed to have been carried out by the military or military-backed militias. The Bush administration opposed the provision.

Wiranto, as well as several other senior Indonesian military officials, was indicted by the Crimes Unit, although an arrest warrant has still to be issued. Soon after the indictment was handed down in February, 2003, however, the State Department placed Wiranto on its visa watch list, which means that he could be barred from entering the United States.

Although the U.S. ambassador in Jakarta said this week that Wiranto would be treated as a head of state if he were to win the election, most officials and independent analysts believe that his record would make relations more difficult, particularly compared to a reformer like Yudhoyono, who has not been implicated in major rights abuses or in corruption.

Even right-wing U.S. analysts see Wiranto's election as highly problematic. In a paper issued Thursday, Dana Dillon of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation called Wiranto both passive and corrupt but warned against explicit condemnations of the general. According to Dillon, they would likely be used to fuel a nationalist backlash, particularly given the strong rise in anti-American sentiment as Washington has pursued its war on terrorism. The vast majority of Indonesians are Muslims.

Rights groups, however, are unrestrained in their criticism of Wiranto's candidacy. The East Timor Action Network (ETAN) called for his arrest and prosecution by a yet-to-be-established international tribunal for East Timor.

"We urge the U.S. Congress and Bush administration to withhold all military assistance for Indonesia until Wiranto and others responsible for crimes against humanity in East Timor and Indonesia are brought to justice in judicial processes consistent with international standards," said ETAN's director, John Miller.

HRW called for other countries besides the U.S. to take measures to bar visits from Wiranto. Countries with a commitment to the rule of law and justice should send a message that Wiranto's election could make Indonesia a pariah state that they would have difficulty dealing with, Adams said.

He noted that Indonesia's own human rights commission had recommended that Wiranto be put on trial before an Indonesian court, but that the recommendation was ignored by the country's attorney-general. Jakarta's failure to prosecute him and other senior military commanders, according to HRW, should lead the UN to consider new ways, including the possibility of establishing an international tribunal that could prosecute him.

Wiranto's nomination and the failure of the Indonesian justice system underscore why the international community needs to ensure a credible and effective court to bring to justice those responsible for crimes committed in East Timor, Adams said.

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