Subject: IPS: Generals, Lawyers Face Off on Timor Abuses

Generals, Lawyers Face Off on Timor Abuses By Marianne Kearney

JAKARTA, Dec 17 (IPS) - An independent Indonesian commission, which has made surprising headway investigating human rights abuses committed during East Timor's post-ballot violence, has come under fire from the high- ranking generals it has named as being connected with the violence.

Still, the Indonesian team of lawyers has vowed to press on with their investigation.

They have been receiving threats from a senior military commander who says Indonesian soldiers would be so humiliated they might run amok, if their generals were called to give evidence in a public trial.

''If that happens, I pity the ordinary people. The people who are wrong are the ones that are discrediting TNI (the Indonesian acronym for its armed forces),'' said General Jaja Suparman, who commands the elite Kostrad forces and a close friend of the former armed forces head, Gen Wiranto.

Whilst the UN special investigation into the human rights abuses has been hindered by the Indonesian government, the Indonesian commission has received support from the new president, Abdurrahman Wahid, and is considered more likely to proceed with a human rights trial.

In a surprising twist, Wahid said that he would ask for the resignation of General Wiranto, who headed the armed forces during the violence in Timor after its Aug 30 vote for independence, if he is found guilty by the court.

The commission has come under strong criticism from the military over the last few days, because it has indirectly accused senior Indonesian generals, including Wiranto, of either supporting or directly organising the militias post-ballot rampage which destroyed East Timor.

Wiranto has denied any links with the violence, calling the commission members accusations ''groundless''.

This week Munir, an investigator with the Indonesian team, announced that it had uncovered new evidence clearly showing the links between the military, the government and the militias.

For instance, Munir said that every provincial mayor was linked to the militias and that they had documents which showed the militias asking for help from the military.

Munir rejected the military's criticism of their investigation, arguing the case could set legal precedent and could potentially ''reform the Indonesian law and restructure it so that it can have an impact on human rights cases in Aceh, as well as other cases''.

Meanwhile, the UN Commission investigating human rights abuses has called for the continuation of the investigation, saying it also has evidence proving the military's involvement in the post ballot-violence which critics say included systematic terror and targeting women for sexual abuse.

The UN team will make a recommendation to the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, at the end of this week.

The UN team, which left Jakarta last week, has not received the same support as its Indonesian counterpart from the Indonesian government. Even Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab rejected the inquiry, saying it would be shame Indonesia if its generals were hauled before an international inquiry.

As a result the UN commission was refused access to West Timor, where much of the evidence, such as the bodies of pro-independence supporters, was reported to have been taken.

Many of the military-backed militia leaders now live in West Timor and commission leader Sonia Picado says they were disappointed that the Indonesian government was not more cooperative.

Still, they were able to share evidence with their Indonesian counterparts. The Indonesian team for example found a mass grave in West Timor, where 26 people who were victims of a massacre in the Catholic church at Suai had been buried.

They have been far more successful than the UN team in interviewing members of the Indonesian military who were ordered to participate in the violence, and high-ranking members of the militia.

However, Picado said their team was still able to gather a lot of evidence in East Timor. She says that Interfet, the previous UN team in Timor, had been able to provide them with good evidence illustrating the military's involvement with the militias.

Picado also said that new witnesses who had seen various incidences or mass killings were coming forward everyday in East Timor.

The UN team also had to battle substantial red tape before it was finally sent to East Timor to begin its investigation. It was almost two months after the UN officially approved a war crimes investigation, before the team arrived in East Timor. By that time, much of the evidence had either disappeared or eroded due to heavy rains.

However, diplomatic commentators are not confident members of the UN Security Council will approve a war crimes tribunal, and therefore place more hope in the Indonesian team to deliver justice.

Munir and commission leader Albert Hasibuan say they are committed to trying the people ultimately responsible for the systematic violence but admit that bringing their orchestrators of the violence to the courts will be more difficult.

''This week I still thought the trial would run fairly but I don't know what will happen next week after the statements from the military,'' said Munir of the commission's position.

Another problem is witness intimidation. Munir admitted that the military who are bringing key militia witnesses to Jakarta in the next week, might try to intimidate the witnesses. ''Yes, the military and the militias have consolidated,'' he said.

However, Hasibuan believes that if Wiranto's knowledge of the violence could be proven, he could he tried for failure to prevent the violence.

Yet even if the evidence is solid, the outcome may still be a political decision and generals are summoned before the trial and found guilty of orchestrating the post-ballot violence may not be punished.

''It depends on the political position of the government. Maybe the government will give amnesty to the generals after the trial. But the important thing is that the trial is held, not the results,'' Hasibuan said.

The other question is whether the team has access to Australian intelligence material, which could provide more vital hard evidence showing the extent of the Indonesian military's involvement. (END/IPS/ap- hd-ip/mk/js/99)


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