Subject: FEER: U.S. News Leak Designed to Hurt Wiranto?

Far Eastern Economic Review Issue cover-dated February 5, 2004


Watch This Man

Is an American news leak designed to hurt the political ambitions of a former Suharto general?

By John McBeth/JAKARTA and Murray Hiebert/WASHINGTON

INDONESIA'S ELECTIONS are about to become interesting. Last year, retired armed-forces chief Wiranto, in the early stages of a presidential candidacy, was placed on America's visa watch list. The decision was taken after Wiranto was indicted by a United Nations special crimes unit for crimes against humanity in East Timor in 1999.

But the move by the United States was kept quiet at the time. News of the decision was only leaked recently, just as Wiranto is emerging as a prime contender for the presidential nomination of the former ruling Golkar party and one of the strongest challengers to incumbent President Megawati Sukarnoputri. The timing of the revelation has left Washington open to charges that it is meddling in domestic Indonesian affairs.

Even if untrue, the perception of U.S. interference was strengthened on January 28 by a subsequent move to pursue an arrest warrant against Wiranto in Dili District Court by the American deputy general prosecutor connected with the UN special crimes unit. In addition, U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce and other American diplomats have for many months made no secret of their distaste for Wiranto. They have relayed that feeling in meetings with Golkar chairman Akbar Tanjung, himself a presidential contender (under a different legal cloud), and other party officials.

A senior U.S. official in Washington confirmed that Wiranto was placed on the visa watch list about "four to six" months ago. Inclusion on the list doesn't mean a visa request will be rejected, only that the request will automatically be forwarded to Washington for special scrutiny. It wasn't announced, said the official, "because these decisions usually aren't." He says the administration decided on the move after the conclusion of Indonesia's widely criticized human-rights trials, in which most of 18 soldiers and civilians accused of crimes against humanity in 1999's rampage were acquitted.

U.S. and Indonesians officials agree that the visa issue is unlikely to have much impact on how most Indonesians view Wiranto, a former four-star general. Indeed, it could even improve Wiranto's standing in a Muslim nation that has been critical of unilateral U.S. actions around the world.

Even so, Wiranto's campaign managers aren't happy with what they consider to be U.S. interference in Indonesia's internal affairs. "We have to consider it seriously," Wiranto's legal adviser, Muladi, a former justice minister, said in an interview. Muladi seemed to be more concerned about how domestic political rivals will use the watch-list revelation as grist for "political games" than anything else.

News of the American move against Wiranto was leaked to The Washington Post on January 16. That was a day after Wiranto addressed Jakarta-based foreign correspondents. The leak was apparently not a deliberate move by the administration, but former Ambassador Paul Cleveland, the president of the United States-Indonesia Society, nevertheless described it as "regrettable" and the timing "unfortunate" coming in the run-up to parliamentary elections on April 4.

Western military intelligence officers familiar with what went on in East Timor say there is no conclusive evidence that Wiranto ordered any systematic destruction. But these sources also say that as the armed-forces chief, Wiranto had to be aware of what was happening on the ground. The former adjutant to deposed President Suharto has always refused to accept responsibility just because he had command authority.

AN ARREST WARRANT WOULD HURT WIRANTO Perhaps more damaging to Wiranto's political aspirations than being placed on the U.S. watch list would be a move by East Timor's Dili District Court to issue an arrest warrant through Interpol, the international police network, as the American deputy prosecutor is now pushing for. The UN has filed 81 indictments accusing 37 Indonesian military officers, four senior policemen, 65 East Timorese officers and civilians, and the former East Timor governor, of crimes against humanity. But, so far, Interpol warrants, or "red notices," have been issued in only six cases.

East Timor President Xanana Gusmao and Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta oppose pursuing retribution in connection with the 1999 violence, saying it will produce few benefits and only widen the rift with Jakarta. Wiranto adviser Muladi says Gusmao and Wiranto have met twice to discuss reconciliation. At their last meeting six months ago, the East Timor president pointed out that he could not interfere if the Dili District Court, a hybrid judiciary of East Timor and UN-appointed international judges, moved against Wiranto.

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