Subject: IHT: Ex-Indonesia armed forces chief defends East Timor record

International Herald Tribune

Ex-Indonesia armed forces chief defends East Timor record

By Donald Greenlees

Published: May 6, 2007

JAKARTA: For the retired General Wiranto, the former armed forces commander of Indonesia and one-time presidential aspirant, it was a well-rehearsed script. Speaking to a largely sympathetic crowd overflowing a hotel ballroom here, he branded as absurd allegations that the Indonesian military and police officers had committed grave human rights violations during East Timor's fraught passage to independence in 1999.

In the years since Indonesian security forces and loyalist militia beat a destructive and bloody retreat from East Timor, Wiranto has consistently proclaimed his innocence of any crime in the face of allegations by human rights activists and an indictment from a crimes unit funded by the United Nations.

It was unlikely that he would change his story in testimony Saturday to a hearing of the Indonesia and East Timor Commission of Truth and Friendship, an initiative of the two governments to close a bitter chapter in their shared history.

Wiranto told the hearing that "there was no policy to attack civilians, there were no systematic plans, no genocide or crimes against humanity."

The commission is purported to be a last attempt to uncover the truth about the events in East Timor in 1999, avoid the slim possibility of the United Nations setting up a tribunal to investigate the violence and allow the two countries to finally move on. But analysts and human rights activists say the refusal of senior Indonesian military and police officers to accept any responsibility means that by the time the commission concludes hearings at the end of July it will have learned little truth and delivered no justice.

Although analysts say that it is extremely unlikely that the world body will be able to get member states to agree to set up its own tribunal on East Timor, it has not wanted to be associated with a process that might allow military officers, militia commanders or civilians to avoid judicial reckoning.

David Cohen, director of the Berkeley War Crimes Studies Center at the University of California, who has been employed as an adviser to the commission, said in an interview that that was a mistake.

He said that while the truth and friendship commission did not have a mandate even to recommend prosecutions, it still provided an opportunity to reveal more of the truth.

The commission has requested a number of documents from the armed forces that could help shed light on the actions of the security forces. Some junior personnel have also been prepared to admit wrongdoing before the commission.

"If the UN refuses to cooperate, it will only make it more difficult for the commission to fulfill its mandate of reviewing all the available evidence and establishing conclusive proof of what happened," Cohen said.

"Whatever critics may or may not think about the commission, I don't know why they would not want to have the commission receive all the information necessary to do its work."

In the aftermath of East Timor, Western countries, including the United States, severed virtually all ties to the Indonesian military. Those links have been steadily rebuilt largely because of the valuable role played by Indonesia, the world's biggest Muslim country, in fighting terrorism.

In mid-April, Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono received a warm reception on a visit to Washington. Yet the United States still restricts contacts with the Indonesian military and occasionally refuses to train some officers implicated in abuses and raises objections to certain officer promotions.

Analysts say those problems will not go away unless Indonesia is prepared to do more to change its military, starting with greater accountability for military personnel implicated in past abuses.

"It is not in the top five issues that Indonesia has to deal with," said Sidney Jones, Southeast Asia director of the International Crisis Group. "But military reform should be writ large as one of the issues the government has to face."

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