Subject: Age: Wiranto Should Face Accusers

The Age Thursday, May 13, 2004


Wiranto Should Face His Accusers

With a warrant out for his arrest, the general should not be a political candidate.

The presidential campaign of Indonesia's Golkar Party is off to a shaky start - in international eyes at least. A United Nations court in East Timor has issued a warrant for the arrest of the party's candidate, the former Indonesian armed forces commander, Wiranto. Golkar is the machine that kept former president Soeharto in power for more than three decades, and earlier this week Wiranto seemed to be trying to shed the taint of the Soeharto era: he announced that the human rights campaigner Solahuddin Wahid, younger brother of former president Abdurrahman Wahid, would be his vice-presidential running mate in the election scheduled for July 5. The arrest warrant, however, has taken the gloss off that announcement.

The warrant, which follows an indictment by the Special Panel for Serious Crimes in East Timor 16 months ago, could theoretically be exercised any time General Wiranto steps outside Indonesia. The charges upon which it is based specify "the crimes against humanity of murder, deportation and persecution". They relate to the terror that gripped East Timor in late 1999, when armed militias backed by the Indonesian military rampaged through the territory killing an estimated 1500 people.

The Special Crimes Unit has specified that General Wiranto has been charged with "command responsibility for murder, deportation and persecution committed in the context of a widespread and systematic attack on the civilian population in East Timor". In short, General Wiranto stands accused of war crimes. The court's argument is that military commanders in such circumstances are criminally responsible if they knew or had reason to know of the commission of crimes against humanity by those under their effective control and failed to take reasonable action to prevent or punish the perpetrators.

General Wiranto has denied claims that he, or indeed the Indonesian military, was to blame for the violence in evidence to an Indonesian human rights tribunal. Instead he said the violence was rooted in internal conflict among opponents and supporters of East Timorese independence. If General Wiranto is confident of this, then he has nothing to fear in fronting a tribunal in East Timor. As a responsible member of the UN, Indonesia should do its part to ensure that he does so. Wiranto is not considered the frontrunner for the presidency, although Indonesian politics have become volatile and unpredictable. The mere possibility that he might become president with such charges hanging over him is cause for serious alarm not just in Indonesia, but among its neighbours and the broader international community. While General Wiranto's charm, charisma and promise of strong leadership may have some pull at home, it is unlikely to hold such sway outside Indonesia. He should face the charges, and either clear his name or endure the consequences.

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