Subject: DPA: YEARENDER: Indonesia, Cambodia confront cruel past in different ways

Deutsche Presse-Agentur

Asia-Pacific News

YEARENDER: Indonesia, Cambodia confront cruel past in different ways

Dec 11, 2007, 5:03 GMT

Jakarta/Phnom Penh - A book of sorts is being written in the Indonesian archipelago about the violent recent history between Indonesia and its neighbour East Timor. It remains to be seen whether it turns out to be factual history or historical fiction.

Events in both countries in 2007 have some fearing it would be more like a fairy tale.

The Indonesia-East Timor Commission of Truth and Friendship, modelled on South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission from the 1990s, has finished three years of investigations and public hearings and is now writing its final report about what happened during East Timor's violent breakaway from Indonesia in 1999.

The countries' governments agreed to establish the commission to avoid a United Nations war crimes tribunal, given the 1,000 murders, forced deportations and other atrocities committed by the Indonesian armed forces and pro-integration militias before, during and after a 1999 referendum approving East Timor's independence.

The commission, however, has no decision-making power and cannot prosecute anyone. That was just fine for culpable Indonesian Army and police generals, who testified this year that no violence took place, only 100 people were killed and it was all the fault of the United Nations, which organized the vote.

The Indonesian members of the commission were scarcely better, spending most of their time trying to discredit the Timorese torture and rape victims and witnesses to massacres carried out by Indonesia's military and the local militias they armed and trained.

In Cambodia, however, a special tribunal is tasked with explaining what happened in that country's tragic past as well as punishing those responsible for the deaths of up to 2 million people from forced labour, disease, starvation and executions.

Surpassing most expectations, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia began operating in 2007 and has recently indicted the top surviving members of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime of the late 1970s, which killed roughly a quarter of Cambodia's people.

While the ultra-Maoist movement's supreme leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998, henchmen Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary and Kaing Khek Iev are all now in custody.

Meanwhile, human rights groups as well as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have criticized the Indonesia-Timor commission because it lacks the ability to bring anyone to justice and, thereby, prolongs the history of impunity in Indonesia.

UN employees in Timor during the referendum were banned from testifying, and many Western governments have privately dismissed the commission as a sham.

'Honestly, we are daydreaming if we expect this commission to fulfill justice for the people of East Timor,' said Usman Hamid, coordinator for the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, an Indonesia-based non-governmental organization.

Others, however, are demanding a little respect for the process, given that the commission has not even released its final conclusions, expected in February.

'The commission is working based on its terms of reference,' said Agus Widjojo, one of the Indonesian commissioners. 'But this is clearly what both countries wanted: to forget the past and achieve reconciliation.'

It took a decade of tense negotiations between the Cambodian government and United Nations to agree to a joint tribunal.

But even the euphoria of the recent arrests has not stopped disputes among advocates, historians and others about whether to indict lower-ranking Khmer Rouge members who committed atrocities under orders.

For instance, Steve Hedder, a Khmer Rouge historian and investigator for the court, has named seven people he feels should stand trial.

However, Helen Jarvis, another Khmer Rouge expert and the current media liaison officer at the court, has argued that going for lower- ranking cadre would undermine national reconciliation - a process that has ended Cambodia's civil war and reintegrated former Khmer Rouge into society.

As is the case with the Indonesia-Timor commission, the Cambodian-UN court must decide the right balance between truth and reconciliation, and punishment.

'The most important thing is to have a trial so that generations to come can see that there are consequences and the healing can begin,' says Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, which collected reams of documents from the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime that are now being used as evidence.

For their part, however, the Cambodian suspects have been taking a page out of the Indonesian military's playbook. Former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan claimed he was 'busy' and knew nothing about the mass deaths until the regime's fall.

Nuon Chea, who was Pol Pot's chief deputy, is also unrepentant, once infamously apologizing for all the animals that died because 'I am a Buddhist,' but denying responsibility for the human toll.

'This happens after every war,' he said of the tribunal during an interview last year. 'The winners punish the losers.'

While that punishment might come to pass in Cambodia, impunity was expected to again win the day in Indonesia.

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