|Subject: Economist: Indonesia's Untouchable
Army Chiefs Getting Away With Murder
Received from Joyo Indonesian News
The Economist July 3rd 2003
Getting away with murder
Indonesia's army chiefs are still untouchable
THE most senior Indonesian military officer indicted by Jakarta's special tribunal for the violence in East Timor in 1999, Major-General Adam Damiri, made a heartfelt plea this week for mercy from the five judges trying his case. The verdict is to be announced on August 5th. But the former commander of the region overseeing the territory at the time is unlikely to have many sleepless nights. Prosecutors, citing lack of evidence, have recommended that all charges be dropped.
Photo: No vengeance for Timor (Reuters)
Only two Indonesian military officers have been convicted over the violence, in which hundreds died, and they are free on appeal. Amnesty International, a human-rights group, has described the trials as neither honest nor fair. Meanwhile the UN-established Serious Crimes Unit in East Timor has indicted 63 members of the Indonesian armed forces, including the then commander, General Wiranto, as well as General Damiri, for crimes against humanity. All are safe in Indonesia and, as long as they stay there, are almost certain to escape prosecution.
Such impunity is not confined to East Timor. In April seven special-forces soldiers were convicted of causing the death of the pro-independence Papuan politician Theys Eluay in November 2001. But no attempt was sought to ascertain ultimate accountability. Few analysts believe the senior officer on trial, a lieutenant-colonel, could have initiated such a controversial operation.
Also this week, the first trials began over what is known as the July 27th incident, the storming (in 1996) of the party headquarters of Megawati Sukarnoputri, then an opposition leader, but now president, in which dozens of people are thought to have died. The most senior person on trial is a retired colonel. The military commander of Jakarta at the time, who now happens to be the capital's governor and a staunch Megawati supporter, is conspicuous by his absence.
In the next few weeks the trials are expected to begin of 14 soldiers for the violent suppression of a demonstration at Jakarta's Tanjung Priok port in 1984 in which hundreds are suspected to have been killed. Again, the then Jakarta and national military commanders are not among the indicted. Rampant human-rights abuses are also alleged in the armed forces' current operation to crush separatists in Aceh: but no soldiers have yet been charged over the deaths of some 200 civilians.
How and why are the generals getting away with these and many other alleged abuses? Under President Suharto and his successor, B.J. Habibie, they were untouchable. President Abdurrahman Wahid, who followed, wanted to weaken the armed forces before targeting individuals, but did not survive long enough. Ever since they played a key role in elevating her to the presidency in July 2001, Miss Megawati has felt indebted to the generals.
This has become increasingly obvious in recent months, as they have started to recover their power. A government consultative paper published earlier this year argues for the army to regain some of the domestic responsibilities lost to the police in the wake of the fall of Suharto in 1998. Part of this is to be achieved by the scrapping of plans to abolish the military's "territorial" function, which allows for a presence down to the village level.
Meanwhile, a new bill includes a clause that allows the armed forces to act for 24 hours without presidential consent. The generals have also seen off plans to audit the army's business activities, which provide an estimated 70% of the defence budget. These two developments have, for the most part, gone unchallenged by politicians, most of whom, with an eye to next year's general election, think the army is the only way to deal with the Islamist and separatist threats.