Selected postings from east-timor (reg.easttimor)

Subject: Kopassus Chief Asks Public to Forget Its Dark Past at Anniversary Celebration

The Jakarta Globe

April 17, 2010

Kopassus Chief Asks Public to Forget Its Dark Past at Anniversary Celebration

by Markus Junianto Sihaloho & Nurfika Osman

photo: Maj. Gen. Lodewijk Paulus inspecting his troops during the 58th anniversary of Kopassus in Jakarta on Friday.(Antara/Prabu Pandya)

Amid human rights activists' demands for it to face justice, the Army's elite force marked its 58th anniversary on Friday by calling for the public to forget about the litany of its past alleged atrocities.

Speaking to journalists after the anniversary celebration in Jakarta, Maj. Gen. Lodewijk Paulus said the allegations of past rights violations were a "psychological burden."

He added that the public should "no longer associate" the force, which is known as Kopassus, with historical atrocities.

"Honestly, it has become a problem and people just keep harping on them," he said. "It's not fair."

Papang Hidayat, head of research and development at the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), lambasted the unit's attitude toward the alleged crimes and said it would never be viewed differently unless it adequately addressed the allegations.

"We still question the credibility of Kopassus, as the unit has never been subjected to real justice," he told the Jakarta Globe.

Kopassus is accused of being behind the disappearance of 13 activists during the turbulent years leading to the downfall of Suharto.

Papang said the unit's attempt to ignore the allegations of human rights abuses would only result in a vicious spiral of new officers inheriting and passing on the burden of being associated with them.

"It will burden future generations and become an albatross for Kopassus, unless proper justice is served," Papang said.

Lodewijk claimed the unit was undergoing a thorough reform, with officers alleged to have committed rights violations now subject to a military tribunal and a civilian prosecution.

However, the policy is not retroactive, so past violators are not affected.

Lodewijk said the unit had hired a trainer from Norway to instruct its officers on human rights and how to treat combatants and non-combatants, but did not say exactly how the force would address past violations.

"It'll be very useful for us, particularly during conflicts," he said. "We're committed to increasing our professionalism, solidity and readiness ahead of any threat."

The entire Kopassus unit is banned from receiving US military education or training, following allegations of its involvement in a number of atrocities. The United States says it will only lift the ban if the government prosecutes the officers allegedly involved in past abuses.

The Human Rights Watch has also said Kopassus officials had not been held responsible for human rights abuses during the 24 years that Indonesia occupied East Timor, including the 1992 Santa Cruz massacre.

In his remarks during the ceremony, Army Chief Gen. George Toisutta said Kopassus had always been a key component of the military and played a crucial role in defending the country's sovereignty.

But he also said the changing times had brought new challenges and threats.

"So keep up your good performance," he said.

"Only through good training can you maintain and even improve your skills as an elite force."

Toisutta did not address the allegations of rights violations.

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