Subject: Embattled Wahid Pledges To Seek Justice For East Timor

also: Wahid pledges to seek justice for East Timor

Militia will be dealt with, embattled Wahid promises Australian PM

CANBERRA, June 26 (AFP) - Indonesian hostility towards Australia over the secession of East Timor eased visibly after historic talks here Tuesday between President Abdurrahman Wahid and Prime Minister John Howard.

Howard and Wahid, the first Indonesian leader to visit Australia since 1975, both acknowledged the strain to which bilateral ties were subjected because of Australia's military intervention in East Timor two years ago.

Until now, Canberra's best diplomatic efforts to restore relations have been rebuffed.

But Indonesia's embattled leader described his presence here as "symbolic", pledging to do his utmost to see the pro-Indonesian militia he described as "culprits" brought to book for their bloody rampage in East Timor in September

"They have to be brought to justice," he said. "The law enforcement will take place in Indonesia but, of course, it needs time."

Wahid's absence during a period of instability for his government has sparked rebukes from the president's domestic political opponents -- a fact acknowledged by Howard.

The Australian prime minister said Wahid had discussed with him the establishment of ad hoc tribunals to prosecute crimes committed before and after East Timor voted to break away from Indonesia on August 30, 1999.

"Both of us are very strongly of the view that the strains over East Timor, understandable though they were ... should in the interests of a broader and deeper relationship be put behind us as we move on," Howard told a joint press conference.

Despite the goodwill engendered by the visit, Howard used the occasion to address the issue of greater autonomy for the Indonesian provinces of Aceh and Irian Jaya, where separatist movements are leading a violent push for independence.

But he stressed that Australia acknowledged Indonesian sovereignty over these troublespots.

"We, like other friends of Indonesia urge you and your government to seize the historic opportunity afforded by autonomy provisions to resolve these problems," Howard said.

He also described Wahid's suggestion that the two countries foster the creation of a new regional diplomatic forum for the western Pacific as "farsighted".

Wahid, who faces the likelihood of impeachment on August 1 by Indonesia's highest legislature, said his visit was largely "symbolic", while aimed at mending a "deteriorating" bilateral relationship.

"But symbolic or not, it is really important because of many things," he said.

Howard acknowledged the criticism levelled at Wahid in Jakarta over his presence here, which is resented by sections of Indonesia's military and political elite.

"On behalf of the government and all Australians, I thank you for the resolve you have personally shown in coming to our nation," Howard said.

Wahid later signalled cooperation between Jakarta and Canberra to ease East Timor's entry onto the world stage as an independent state.

"With this kind of visit the cooperation between Indonesia and Australia will be closer, and I hope that we both can help the East Timorese to regain their position in the international community," Wahid said.

Australian troops led the UN-sanctioned peacekeeping force into East Timor in September 1999, to stem an Indonesian-orchestrated campaign of terror mounted by the militia following East Timor's overwhelming vote for independence.


Wahid pledges to seek justice for East Timor

By Belinda Goldsmith

CANBERRA, June 26 (Reuters) - Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid renewed a pledge in Australia on Tuesday to prosecute army officers and militia leaders responsible for atrocities in East Timor but warned it would take time.

Under pressure from Australia to step up efforts for justice in Indonesia's former territory, the frail Muslim cleric also promised to help East Timor get back on its feet after a 1999 vote for independence sparked a bloody rampage by pro-Jakarta gunmen.

Ties between the Asia Pacific neighbours soured when Canberra led a multinational peacekeeping force into East Timor but Wahid's trip to Australia -- the first by an Indonesian president in 26 years -- was expected to help heal the rift.

"I hope we can both help the East Timorese to regain their position in the international community," Wahid told a news conference held with Prime Minister John Howard in Canberra.

Howard said Wahid's visit paved the way for a new era in relations between the world's most populous Muslim nation and the vast island continent of just 19 million people to its south.

East Timor has been a thorn in the side of bilateral ties since Jakarta invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975.

"Both of us are very strongly of the view that the strains over East Timor, understandable though they were in the process of those events, should in the interests of a broader and deeper relationship be put behind us as we move on," Howard said.

COMMITMENT TO TRIBUNALS

Wahid, who faces criticism at home for travelling in the run-up to his possible impeachment after a chaotic 20-month rule, said it was important to prosecute those responsible for violence in East Timor, which Jakarta ran for 24, often brutal, years.

"They have to be brought to justice," he said. "The law enforcement will take place in Indonesia but, of course, it needs time."

Over 1,000 people were estimated to have been killed by the Indonesia army-backed militias. The gunmen continue to operate on the border with Indonesian West Timor, where a quarter of East Timor's 900,000 people fled during the bloodshed two years ago.

Wahid previously promised to set up a tribunal to deal with abuses in East Timor but no move has yet been made to launch the court amid deepening political turmoil in Jakarta where he is fighting off moves by his political enemies to oust him.

Wahid faces an impeachment hearing on August 1 and has steadfastly asserted his innocence in two financial scandals that triggered the parliamentary moves to condemn Indonesia's first democratically elected president.

The latest controversy erupted on Monday when Wahid sacked the widely respected head of bank restructuring agency IBRA.

"If I may say, there are two kinds of people, those who are apt to become staff, and those who are apt to become leaders," Wahid said when asked to explain the sacking.

"So then I now put a man with a vision, leader, with the ability to execute what he thinks is right, in IBRA."

While the political crisis rumbles on, the international community has become frustrated with Indonesia's failure to prosecute army officers accused of atrocities in East Timor.

Sentences of 10 to 20 months imposed by an Indonesian court in May on six men accused of killing three U.N aid workers in West Timor prompted harsh criticism of the Indonesian legal system.

Leaders of the U.N.-run entity, which holds its first election in August and expects to gain independence next year, have called for a special U.N. war crimes tribunal.

Howard said he supported Indonesia's commitment to independent tribunals for East Timor.

"We are pleased to note the commitment in relation to investigation of matters both before and after the (1999) ballot," Howard told the news conference.


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