Subject: Former Indonesian President Supports War Crimes Tribunals

The Age (Melbourne, Australia)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Push for war crimes trials

Ben Doherty, Jakarta

FORMER Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid, who plans to contest next year's election, has supported the establishment of a war crimes tribunal to try Indonesian military figures accused of inciting violence during East Timor's independence vote in 1999.

Mr Wahid said further formal investigation of alleged human rights violations was needed urgently.

"We have to be clear on this. There were violations of human rights in both countries, and that's what the commission discovered," Mr Wahid said. "But going further means further research, opening the facts ... and not burying everything under the covers."

His comments follow the release this week of a report by the Indonesian and East Timorese governments' Commission for Truth and Friendship, which found the Indonesian government and military were "institutionally responsible" for a campaign of violence and intimidation. More than 1400 people were left dead and tens of thousands without homes or basic infrastructure.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expressed "very deep regret" in accepting the report. But his Foreign Minister, Hassan Wirayuda, said: "The case is closed. There will be no legal prosecution against individuals as the state has taken over the responsibility."

Mr Wahid was elected president in October 1999, just two months after East Timor seceded and as departing troops wrought a violent "scorched earth" policy on the fledgling nation. He told The Age he had no prior knowledge of the actions of the military, but has said those in authority who did know should be brought to justice. Asked whether a war crimes tribunal should be established to try those suspects, Mr Wahid said: "Yes, precisely."

He named former army head General Wiranto - whom he sacked from his cabinet in 2000 - as one of the military officials he suspected of having ordered the violence, as well as Chief Lieutenant-General Prabowo Subianto. Both General Wiranto and Lieutenant General Prabowo are also expected to run for president.


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A meeting with Gus Dur

A war crime tribunal should be set up to investigate the 1999 violence in East Timor, a former Indonesian president has said.

Abdurrahman Wahid, who will run for the position again in 2009 for the National Awakening Party told journalists he believed the Commission for Truth and Friendship between the two countries needed more investigation.

The report found the Indonesian Government, military and police committed human rights violations including murder, rape, torture, illegal detention and forced deportation.

Perpetrators of the violence after East Timor’s vote for independence in September 1999 should be tried before a war crimes tribunal, Mr Wahid said.

“Yes, precisely. Of course going further means further research and [to] open the facts,” he said.

“We have to be clear on this that there were violations of human rights in both countries and that’s what the commission discovered.”

Mr Wahid, who is affectionately known to most Indonesians as ‘Gus Dur’ became president of Indonesia in October 1999 – just after the independence vote.

He sacked General Wiranto who was the military commander responsible for East Timor at the time of the independence referendum a few months after.

In Jakarta this week Mr Wahid said he dismissed him because of his involvement in the violence, which left more than a thousand dead, and tens of thousands displaced.

“I believe that [it was] not only him,” he said.

“Last night I heard Prabowo talk about reconciliation, but I don’t believe him.”

The report mentioned Chief Lieutenant General Prabowo Subianto, former head of special forces unit Kopassus among other ex-military heads as being part of the violence.

It was released on Tuesday in Bali, with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono flanked by East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.

All three said the report closed the door and marked a time to move on.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expressed a “very deep regret” at the events of the past.

“We, leaders of today, must do all we can to acknowledge the lessons of the past in order to strengthen even further the relations between our two countries for the betterment of our people,” Mr Ramos-Horta said.

Both presidents accepted the report and signed a commitment to implement recommendations including not prosecuting former military officers.

Retired General Wiranto defended the military’s actions.

“We will leave it to the government and we also assume that there was a mistake at that time, as everything was conducted in accordance with the standing procedures, he said.

Mr Wahid reaffirmed his commitment to run as president again in next July’s elections.

He believes his chances are good.

Jessica Mahar is on a fellowship with the Asia Pacific Journalism Centre.

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