Subject: AFP: Indonesian ministers tell Washington to keep quiet on Timor verdicts 

Also AFP: Acquittals show untamed might of Indonesian military: observers

Agence France Presse -- English

August 12, 2004 Thursday 6:41 AM Eastern Time

Indonesian ministers tell Washington to keep quiet on Timor verdicts

JAKARTA, Aug 12

Washington should mind its own business and refrain from commenting on court rulings that acquitted four Indonesian security officials of atrocities in East Timor, leading ministers here said Thursday.

Acting senior security minister Hari Sabarno lashed out at the United States following criticism of human rights court acquittals clearing four senior military figures over violence surrounding East Timor's 1999 independence vote.

"This is a court verdict ... America should better take care of its own self," Sabarno, also Indonesia's home minister, told journalists.

Jakarta announced last week that the four, including Major General Adam Damiri, the most senior military officer to face trial for the bloodshed during the UN-backed vote, were cleared by an appeal court on July 29.

A 10-year jail term imposed on a pro-Jakarta militiaman who oversaw the murder and torture of independence supporters was also cut in half by the ad hoc human rights court set up as an alternative to an international tribunal.

The US State Department greeted the verdicts with dismay, saying it was "profoundly disappointed with the performance and record of the Indonesian ad hoc tribunal."

Sabarno said the criticism was inappropriate as the Indonesian government itself would not consider intervening in its own judicial process.

"Is there any American tried for gross human rights in Indonesia? They are all Indonesians whose verdicts were decided by courts without any intervention from the government," he said.

Justice Minister Yusril Ihza Mahendra accused Washington of hypocrisy.

"If we are talking about dissatisfaction, I am also not satisfied with what America is doing and its invasion of Iraq, but we are powerless against America," Mahendra said.

He said Indonesia was disappointed with the results of trials abroad, notably hearings on violations in Bosnia, but Jakarta chose to keep its comments to itself.

Foreign Minister Hasan Wirayuda said the government would "note" the US protest, but was under no obligation to act upon it.

More than 1,000 people were killed when Indonesian army-backed local militia proxies waged a campaign of terror and intimidation ahead of the vote that led to full independence for the former Portuguese colony.

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Agence France Presse -- English

August 12, 2004 Thursday 4:17 AM Eastern Time

Acquittals show untamed might of Indonesian military: observers

IAN TIMBERLAKE

JAKARTA, Aug 12

A spate of acquittals absolving Indonesian military officers of human rights violations proves how powerful the armed forces remain in the country despite their claims to have abandoned politics, observers say.

From the days of strongman General Suharto, who kept a potent military close at hand as he reshaped the country over three decades from the 1960s, the armed forces have never been far from the levers of control in Indonesia.

But this formidable power generated a dark side, with the military implicated in atrocities across the Southeast Asian nation as Jakarta asserted its authority.

The past few years have seen Indonesia's military appear to take a lower profile, drawing a line under the past and presenting themselves as servants of the people.

But, say analysts, their strength has not waned and recent court rulings clearing senior officers of past misdemeanours are a sign they can still exert influence as Indonesia prepares to select its next leader.

Last month, human rights court convictions were overturned against four Indonesian security officers accused of violations during East Timor's 1999 bloody breakaway from Indonesia.

Among those cleared was Major General Adam Damiri, the highest-ranked officer charged in connection with the violence which left at least 1,400 dead.

The decision provoked sharp criticism from the US State Department which said it was "profoundly disappointed" by the verdicts that meant no Indonesian security officers charged over East Timor will serve time.

"This is the form military supremacy takes," said Hendardi, of the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association. He said the verdicts reflect the pervasive military role in Indonesia's political and legal system.

"This just proves they are strong."

In the latest acquittal, the human rights court in Jakarta on Thursday cleared Major General Sriyanto Muntarsan of gross human rights violations linked to killings that left at least 10 people dead in Jakarta's Tanjung Priok port area 20 years ago.

Muntarsan currently heads the army's Kopassus special forces.

Last Tuesday, the same court acquitted a retired general, Pranowo, of charges that he failed to stop his men torturing Muslim activists detained after the Priok shooting.

Hendari said the recent verdicts were part of the military's efforts to cleanse its reputation for abuse developed during the rule of Suharto, who stepped down in 1998.

"If they say they don't play politics anymore, it's just a slogan," he said.

Indonesian military and police officers still sit in the current People's Consultative Assembly, the country's highest constitutional body, although this is scheduled to be replaced by an elected body later this year.

But both at home and abroad the Indonesian military is taking visible steps to maintain influence, seeking to restore ties with the United States which were almost completely severed over events in East Timor, and take advantage of new legislation.

Controversy surrounds a military bill under consideration by Indonesia's House of Representatives. Hendardi and Arbi Sanit, a University of Indonesia political science lecturer, fear it would strengthen the military's role.

Sanit says the bill would revive the military's Suharto era "dwi fungsi" or dual function role allowing soldiers to hold certain government posts. Soldiers are currently required to retire before joining the civilian structure.

The bill also confirms a "territorial" role of the military, giving the armed forces a countrywide presence.

"The territorial function is opposed by civil society because it creates a state within a state," Sanit said.

Armed forces spokesman Colonel Ahmad Yani Basuki calls the bill "part of our reform commitment" and insists the military tries to be politically neutral.

"We no longer have the door to return to politics," he said.

Basuki said armed forces commander General Endriartono Sutarto rejected invitations to be a vice-presidential candidate, proof that the military intended to "permanently abandon its involvement in day-to-day politics".

Hendardi said military influence had been strong on civilian President Megawati Sukarnoputri and nothing would change if retired general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono won when the two contest a September 20 presidential vote.

"It's just the same," he said. "He is extremely tied up with military interests."

Sanit said the military was "riding a wind" that would blow even stronger with a Yudhoyono victory.

it-vt/bjn/lpo


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