Subject: AFR: Jakarta Observed: Military Misrule Alive And Well

Australian Financial Review August 20, 2003


Military misrule alive and well

Andrew Burrell

So that's it. Indonesia has decided that a grand total of three military men were responsible for the killing spree and destruction in East Timor that captured the world's attention in 1999.

A special tribunal, established by Jakarta only after international outrage, delivered the last of its 18 verdicts this month, sentencing Major-General Adam Damiri, the highest-ranking officer indicted over the carnage, to three years' jail.

It was a surprising finale to the tribunal's 18 months of hearings.

Hours earlier, a smiling Damiri strutted into court looking supremely confident he would be acquitted. After all, his inept prosecutors had already urged the judges to drop all charges, citing lack of evidence.

The judges stared down the request and an irate Damiri, his smirk gone, had to be restrained when he heard the decision.

But Damiri's three-year sentence for crimes against humanity does not actually mean he will serve time.

Under Indonesian law, he remains free (and is serving in the military operation in another separatist hot spot, Aceh) pending an appeal, which most observers reckon will see the conviction quietly overturned.

The tribunal is widely considered a sham. Of the 18 indicted, just three military officers, two civilians and a police officer were convicted over the military-backed violence that left more than 1000 dead and most of East Timor's infrastructure destroyed.

None of those found guilty, including notorious militia leader Eurico Gueterres, who received the heaviest penalty of 10 years' jail, has yet been punished. The court also failed to pursue several generals, including then military commander Wiranto, which gave rise to claims that it was being used as a tool to protect the powerful.

The Damiri verdict was handed down a fortnight ago but was totally overshadowed by the bombing an hour earlier of Jakarta's Marriott hotel.

Ever since, the local and global airwaves have been dominated by Indonesia's terrorist atrocities, rather than the largely forgotten slaughter in East Timor.

However, the court's failure to deliver justice sends an equally dangerous message to the world about Indonesia's inability to reform its key institutions. It is yet another stark reminder of the military's impunity.

This would normally worry other countries. Instead, Australia is about to resume ties with the military's feared Kopassus special forces - the troops behind much of the East Timor bloodshed - in the name of fighting terrorism.

Not much is likely to improve soon in this regard, either. President Megawati Soekarnoputri now finds herself heavily reliant on the military to deal with both terrorism and separatism, the two biggest threats facing the country. She also seems dangerously indebted to the top military for the role they played in elevating her to power in 2001.

No wonder little hope is held out for justice to be done in the case of another largely forgotten tragedy, the Tanjung Priok massacre of 1984, which the same human rights tribunal will soon start hearing.

Fourteen active and retired military officers will stand trial over the incident, in which soldiers opened fire on hundreds of Muslim protesters in the port district of north Jakarta. But the then Jakarta military chief (and later vice-president) Try Sutrisno, and the national military commander, Benny Moerdani, are not among those charged.

And then there's the so-called Black Saturday incident of July 27, 1996 - the attack by military-backed thugs on Megawati's party headquarters when she was opposition leader.

Five Megawati supporters were killed and 23 went missing in the crackdown, ordered by president Soeharto because he felt threatened by Megawati's rising popularity.

The raid allegedly took place under the close eye of Jakarta military commander Sutiyoso, who has gone on to become the city's governor, with Megawati's backing.

Another top general believed to have had a role in planning the crackdown was Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who these days enjoys a statesmanlike image as Megawati's senior security minister.

Megawati's outspoken calls for justice after the attack helped cultivate her status as a champion of the underdog, which eventually propelled her to the presidency.

But she no longer seeks those who ordered the assault, and last month skipped an anniversary service for her dead supporters.

Five suspects went on trial this month for the July 27 bloodshed but they are mere footsoldiers of the operation. Two of them are former military aides to Sutiyoso, and three are civilians.

Sadly, this culture of military impunity is not confined to the past.

It was also evident in April when seven Kopassus soldiers were convicted of causing the death of Papuan independence leader Theys Eluay, without attempts to ascertain ultimate accountability.

Kopassus troops are also strongly suspected of involvement in the murder of three teachers, including two Americans, in an ambush near the Freeport mine in Papua last year. In Aceh, questions linger over dozens, possibly hundreds, of civilian killings by the military.

All of this gives the lie to arguments that Indonesia's army has somehow fundamentally changed its brutal ways.

And it is surely something Australia should ponder before it cosies up to Kopassus.

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