Subject: Clearance given to question generals over East Timor

Jakarta Post December 02, 1999

Clearance given to question generals over East Timor

JAKARTA (JP): Indonesian Military (TNI) Commander Adm. Widodo A.S. gave the green light on Wednesday to a government-sanctioned inquiry to question top generals about their alleged roles in the massive destruction of East Timor in September.

The chairman of the Commission for the Investigation of Human Rights Abuses in East Timor, Albert Hasibuan, said Widodo also agreed to help bring leaders of pro-Indonesia militia in East Timor to Jakarta for questioning.

The militias have been blamed for the campaign of terror and destruction that erupted after the Aug. 30 ballot in East Timor. Albert's inquiry, however, corroborates allegations that members of TNI were also involved in the mayhem.

"He (Widodo) does not mind if we summon a number of generals. The chief also said he will facilitate the questioning on militia leaders and TNI will fly militia leaders over here," Albert told The Jakarta Post by phone after meeting Widodo.

Widodo, however, rejected the calls for TNI to disband the militias groups in East Nusa Tenggara, Albert said.

"He (Widodo) said there is no organizational link between TNI and the militia. He said, however, that he did not want to see them use West Timor as their base," Albert said.

Most of the militias fled to Indonesia's East Nusa Tenggara on the western half of Timor island when the Australia-led international peacekeeping force arrived in East Timor in mid-September to restore peace and order in the territory.

An overwhelming majority of East Timorese voted to reject Jakarta's offer of sweeping autonomy in the ballot, preferring to have an independent state.

The commission had earlier said that it wanted to question Gen. Wiranto, who was the TNI commander and defense minister when the ballot was held in East Timor, because of allegations that the military was "directly or indirectly" involved in the East Timor violence.

Other TNI officers it has listed for questioning are former Jakarta military commander Maj. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin; former military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Zacky Anwar Makarim; former East Timor military commander Brig. Gen. Tono Suratman; and former Udayana military chief Maj. Gen. Adam Damiri.

Meanwhile, Australia estimated that the death toll in the violent aftermath of East Timor's Aug. 30 self-rule ballot at between 500 and 1,000, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was quoted by AFP as saying on Wednesday.

Downer rejected claims that TNI and militia members massacred tens of thousands of people and had dumped thousands of bodies at sea, saying they would inevitably have washed ashore eventually.

"This is an assessment that we would make and the UN would make," he was quoted as saying.

"Believe me, if between 500 and 1,000 people die that's a terrible thing, that's a lot of people to die. But on the other hand, it's not tens of thousands."

A parliamentary inquiry into East Timor has been told that up to 80,000 people were still unaccounted for following the militia rampage in which most of the population of the territory were forced to flee their homes.

But Downer said the International Force for East Timor (Interfet) had not been able to substantiate a large number of killings and had so far verified only about 130 to 140 deaths.

He said he discussed the death toll with the UN administrator for East Timor Sergio Vieira de Mello. "He has the same impression that we do as well," he added.

If thousands of people had been killed, Interfet would have found more evidence of killings by now, but up to 130,000 East Timorese refugees remained in East Nusa Tenggara and were yet to return home, he said.

Although the explanation for what happened to the tens of thousands of people still unaccounted for remains a mystery, Australian officials believe it is more likely there was a miscalculation of East Timor's preballot population. (byg)

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