Subject: AP: Wiranto Denies Rights Abuses

Associated Press

January 15, 2004

Indonesian General Running For Pres Denies Rights Abuses

JAKARTA (AP)--Indonesia's former military chief, now a top presidential candidate, on Thursday sought to portray himself as a man of peace despite having been indicted for human rights abuses in East Timor, saying he would end Asia's longest-running civil war if elected.

"If I become president, I would order a speedy halt to the military operations in Aceh," Gen. Wiranto said, referring to Indonesia's westernmost province where a military offensive against separatist rebels has killed more than 1,300 people since a peace deal collapsed in May.

Wiranto, who like many Indonesians goes by a single name, is seeking to become the candidate for the Golkar party of former dictator Suharto, whose 32-year rule ended amid a pro-democracy groundswell in 1998.

Speaking to foreign reporters, Wiranto took credit for Indonesia's democratic transformation, saying that as military chief he could have sent in tanks to crush the anti-Suharto rebellion but instead sided with the people.

A year later, however, Wiranto was implicated in widespread human rights abuses by the military during and after a pro-independence referendum in East Timor in 1999. U.N. prosecutors in East Timor have indicted him and several other Indonesian generals, charging them with "command responsibility."

Wiranto denied responsibility and said that if anything he worked to prevent bloodshed in East Timor during the referendum in which much of the territory was destroyed and hundreds lost their lives.

"A commander in chief should not always be held accountable for what his military personnel have done," Wiranto said. He compared East Timor to the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam committed by U.S. forces, saying then-commander Gen. William C. Westmoreland wasn't at fault.

Indonesia has refused to extradite Wiranto or any of several hundred former officers and soldiers charged with war crimes in East Timor. Wiranto said the U.N. indictment wouldn't harm his ability to interact with the international community if elected president.

Wiranto is top contender for the Golkar nomination because his main rival, parliamentary speaker Akbar Tanjung, has been convicted of corruption and is awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on his appeal.

Though Golkar was discredited after Suharto's ouster, it has since regained much of its political clout amid widespread economic malaise and is expected to make a strong showing in parliamentary elections set for April 5.

The Golkar candidate could become the leading challenger to President Megawati Sukarnoputri in July 5 presidential balloting.

Wiranto helped end a previous military offensive in Aceh in 1999 and at the time publicly apologized to Aceh's people for abuses committed during the crackdown. Rebels in the province have been fighting for independence ever since Dutch colonialists invaded the territory in 1870.

"I said each killing will generate vengeance and this vengeance will generate a desire to kill again," Wiranto said, explaining his decision to seek a settlement in Aceh.

"I am a military man and I don't like bloodshed."

-Edited by Mary de Wet


[background/sent previously]

Sydney Morning Herald/The Age Wednesday, January 14, 2004

UN 'Blocking Arrest of Wiranto'

By Jill Jolliffe in Dili

East Timor's chief prosecutor has accused the United Nations of blocking an arrest warrant for war crimes against Wiranto, the Indonesian general who is a front-runner for presidential elections in July.

"There are no legal obstacles, only political obstacles, both in Indonesia and East Timor," Longuinhos Monteiro said.

But Mr Monteiro said he was closer to obtaining the warrant, and an Interpol warrant, for the former military chief, which would lead to his arrest if he travels abroad.

Wiranto is one of eight senior officers charged with directing crimes against humanity during Indonesia's bloody exit from East Timor in 1999.

International judges working for the United Nations in Dili refused to issue the warrants when requested last February, but the prosecutor appealed, and recently secured one for a Wiranto henchman, Colonel Yayat Sudrajat.

Mr Monteiro said the same UN-funded judges are now delaying the other seven cases. They say they can issue only one warrant at a time, he said, and are insisting each Interpol warrant must be issued before they approve the next one.

A UN spokeswoman, Marcia Poole, would not comment on matters before the courts.

Since trials began in 1999, special international panels in Dili have indicted 369 people for crimes against humanity, of whom 281 remain at large in Indonesia.

Prosecutors, who were stymied by Jakarta's refusal to extradite, adopted a new strategy after East Timor joined Interpol last year. New Interpol warrants are being issued regularly for Indonesian military officers.

Wiranto is seeking Golkar party nomination for the presidential poll. If he wins it this month, he could defeat the incumbent President, Megawati Soekarnoputri, on July 5.

An Interpol warrant would scuttle his ambition. "I know Indonesian Interpol will not arrest him, but I think he would be arrested if he tried to enter America," Mr Monteiro said.

The judge's strategy could delay an Interpol warrant for Wiranto until beyond the election date. Mr Monteiro said the UN is mainly concerned to delay local warrants until after it pulls out of East Timor in May.

"They don't want international signatures on them," he said, "but we have the evidence to indict General Wiranto, and this is just political interference."

Nicholas Koumjian, head of the UN-financed Serious Crimes Unit (SCU), denied his department was obstructing the warrants. "We have always been concerned with the delay in these cases, and have approached the judges to see what can be done to help them proceed faster," he said.

The SCU was established by a 1999 Security Council resolution to bring alleged war criminals to justice, and has spearheaded prosecutions. After independence in May 2002, it came under the authority of the East Timorese Government, though staff are recruited and paid by the UN.

The Wiranto indictment was filed by Mr Koumjian's predecessor, Siri Frigaard. It created a row in the UN and among East Timorese leaders, who are divided over war crimes trials.

Some East Timorese leaders, including President Xanana Gusmao and the Foreign Minister, Jose Ramos Horta, have loudly opposed Wiranto's indictment. They say it harms the new relationship they are trying to build with Jakarta after many years of bloodshed.

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