Subject: Wiranto says sorry for first time over Timor Leste violence

New Straits Times

JAKARTA: Wiranto says sorry for first time over Timor Leste violence

By Amy Chew in Jakarta

INDONESIAN presidential candidate and former armed forces chief General Wiranto publicly apologised for the first time for the violence in Timor Leste, then called East Timor, that killed more than 1,000 people in 1999. Wiranto was the armed forces chief when Timor Leste voted to break away from Jakarta rule under a United Nations referendum, triggering a rampage by pro-Jakarta militias who killed, looted and burnt the tiny territory.

Wiranto has never been charged by Jakarta's on-going ad hoc trials for rights abuses and has always maintained he never "ordered or planned" the killings. Human rights campaigners, however, assert he should be held responsible as he was the commander at that time.

"I have been examined by the ad hoc trials and they concluded I cannot be categorised as being guilty or a suspect in that case," Wiranto told the New Straits Times in an interview at the end of a campaigning trip in Central Java.

"But despite that, morally, I have asked for forgiveness from all parties over what has happened in Timor Leste. As a human being, I feel very sad over what happened there. I also lost a child whom I love while I was on duty in Timor Leste." In 2002, the Serious Crime Unit (SCU), a unit within Timor Leste's attorney-general's office, indicted Wiranto for crimes against humanity and issued a warrant for his arrest. In early May this year, however, Timor Leste's A-G's office cancelled the arrest warrant and dropped all charges against him.

The annulment of the charges is expected to help smooth Wiranto's road to the July 5 presidential elections. He is one of the major candidates along with incumbent President Megawati Sukarnoputri and former Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. In an effort to burnish his international standing and to forge reconciliation, Wiranto met Timor Leste's leader Xanana Gusmao at the end of May under the full glare of the international Press in Bali. The two men hugged and smiled for the cameras, but revealed little of the meeting.

In the latest edition of Indonesia's leading news magazine, Tempo, Gusmao said: "I assure you, the cancellation of the arrest warrant for Wiranto by Attorney-General Monteiro is not the result of pressure from Indonesia. This is our principle." Asked whether he was not worried of being branded a traitor, Gusmao said: "We have to be realistic. We still eat Supermi from Indonesia. Other things like aqua (mineral water), clothes and sandals are also from Indonesia. In an era of globalisation, we need support from all parties, especially from our close neighbour." Gusmao also said it was untrue that the people of Timor Leste disliked Wiranto. "I don't believe that at all. Timor Leste's problem in the past is not of Wiranto as an individual. It was a problem of the country," he reportedly said. " When Wiranto is elected as the president of Indonesia, I will send my congratulations as quickly as possible." Wiranto described his relationship with Gusmao as one of friendship and commitment to rebuilding both countries together. "If I am elected president, and I understand East Timor's problems, I want both our countries to forge co-operation to improve the welfare of the people in our respective countries."

© Copyright 2004 The New Straits Times Press (M) Berhad. All rights reserved.

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