Subject: Tempo Interview/Gusmao: "It's Easy to Shout 'Arrest Wiranto!"

Tempo June 15 - 21, 2004


Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao:

"It's Easy to Shout "Arrest Wiranto!"

THE name of 58-year-old Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao has once more caught the Indonesian public's attention. Two weeks ago, Xanana met with Wiranto, former defense and security minister/armed forces commander, and now Golkar's presidential candidate. The meeting in Bali succeeded in softening Wiranto's negative image as the violator of human rights in East Timor during the mass killings which were suspected to have been executed by the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the pro-Jakarta militias following the 1999 referendum in the `province of East Timor'.

Xanana did not only meet with Wiranto. As East Timor's head of state, Xanana has been kind enough to annul the warrant for Wiranto's arrest. That arrest warrant was issued three weeks ago by the Serious Crimes Unit, a special body formed by the United Nations. "East Timor does not need to arrest Wiranto. Let sleeping dogs lie," Xanana said.

Many are puzzled over the sudden change in Xanana. East Timor is being strangled by poverty. Just look at the `presidential palace' located in a building which had once almost burnt down at Rua de Caicoli in Dili. When TEMPO News Room visited there the palace was not guarded by any security guards. There were weeds among the tall mowed grass in the courtyard. There did not seem to be any strict protocol. The walls dividing the office were made of unpainted plywood. Inside the waiting room, there was only one pink sofa splattered with black spots, a 21-inch television monitor and a trash can. Nothing else.

Why did Xanana release Wiranto? Is he just being pragmatic? How is East Timor today? TEMPO News Room reporter, Faisal Assegaf, last month interviewed Xanana, who smoked only two Marlboro cigarettes during the entire session. To complement the interview, TEMPO reporter Setiyardi communicated with Faisal Assegaf by telephone. Excerpts:

You met with Wiranto in Bali. What were the topics of discussion?

We spoke about many issues of interest to both countries. Pak Wiranto, in my opinion, represents an important figure in Indonesia. As a new nation, Timor Leste has much to learn from such figures and leaders in Indonesia.

Was the warrant for Wiranto's arrest, issued by the Serious Crimes Unit also discussed?

Yes, it was mentioned, but we spoke more about the major principles of our two countries.

Are you aware that the meeting has become a political commodity for Wiranto?

I am aware that Wiranto is a presidential candidate of Indonesia. Of course, he is bound to take advantage of a variety of issues. But for my part and that of Timor Leste, Wiranto and Indonesia are important elements. We are unlikely to progress without Indonesia's support.

Did Wiranto promise any compensation to have this meeting?

There was no compensation at all. I can speak with Pak Wiranto. I always act on principles. So there was no pressure or special request from Pak Wiranto. We spoke of existing issues. The discussion took place in a very open environment.

Is it true you had a previous meeting with Wiranto?

(Xanana took a deep breath before answering) Yes, I had a chance to meet him. Just once. We had to discuss a number of issues. I will never give up my principles. That meeting was not pressured by Wiranto to help his presidential campaign. To avoid any misunderstanding, I brought along my attorney general to that meeting. So, I met him not just as a friend, but as a head of state. Because an attorney general was present, Wiranto spoke directly to him. We spoke openly.

Was the meeting at the request of Wiranto?

I was passing through Bali. Pak Wiranto was there. That meeting took place a few months ago.

The Serious Crimes Unit of Timor Leste issued a warrant to have Wiranto arrested. What is your opinion?

That is a legal matter. So I cannot comment on it. According to procedures, as a head of state I do not get such reports. But I don't want them. That's why Attorney General Agung Longuinhos Monteiro cancelled the arrest warrant.

Why did the Serious Crimes Unit issue that arrest warrant?

In East Timor, the institution of the Serious Crimes Unit operates independently. There is no foreign intervention. As head of state, I cannot intervene in the Serious Crimes Unit. I am also unable to intervene with the courts. If there are errors, I can only say that is wrong, but I cannot intervene.

Is it true you and Attorney General Monteiro do not know about that arrest warrant?

As head of state, I don't need to know about such issues. Attorney General Monteiro is the one who should know. But since we are in the process of building a nation, many of the processes don't operate smoothly yet.

Why are you supporting the attorney general's steps?

There are many considerations. I confirm, the cancellation of the warrant to arrest Wiranto by Attorney General Monteiro was not pressured by Indonesia. This is our principle. The step taken by Attorney General Monteiro is in the interest of the state.

It seems like neglecting due process of law over suspicions of human rights violations by Wiranto… This is a complex problem. We have been discussing this problem for about a year. From one side, the leaders in Timor Leste have difficulty getting together. So we were unable to make a solid decision. But I personally think that Indonesia and Timor Leste are building a democratic society. I am of the opinion that the principle of reconciliation is a good way out. There is an interesting example. I note that the whole world applauded when the process of reconciliation took place in South Africa.

What about the legal process? Don't you consider that to be important?

From the legal angle, we must watch the attitude of the Indonesian government. The Indonesian government is currently holding an ad hoc human rights trial. Politically, the decision to hold human rights court is an act of bravery. In other countries, like Cambodia and the Philippines, it has not been done. I think the world should look at the courage of the Indonesian government, which dragged the generals to court. Although the result is obvious, it is nevertheless an act of bravery. Because of that, we must understand Indonesia better in a political way. If something is forced, it will not work.

You are not afraid of being called a traitor?

We must be realistic. We still eat Supermie from Indonesia. Other commodities, like aqua, clothing, and even sandals come from Indonesia. In this era of globalization, we need the support of all parties, particularly with our closest neighbors. If East Timor wants to be firm on the legal process by cutting relations with Indonesia, the problem becomes even more complex, particularly if Wiranto is elected president of Indonesia. This does not mean we will give up our principles.

What if the United Nations organizes an international tribunal to try those accused of human rights violations in Timor Leste?

The international court is not our priority. My priority today is how our independence can give the people something for their celebration. We are still in a very complex situation. How can we hold a human rights violation?

Domestically there are still many issues needing a decision. And we don't have a judge who is experienced. It's easy to shout "arrest Wiranto!" But the problem is very complex.

Is this political stand of yours temporary?

Timor Leste still has youths who are unemployed. We would like to invite investors from Europe to create employment opportunities. But…Europee is far away. Anyway, we cannot ask cold European countries, who owns a house with an ice garden to help Timor Leste farmers. The situation is very different between the two countries. We are just starting out. And Indonesia is already on a higher level than Timor Leste, so we need its experience. It's a mater of a future life. So my political stand is not temporary. It will become a permanent state policy.

When Timor Leste progresses, can the human rights violations of 1999 be opened up again?

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan wrote me a letter on the human rights tribunal. He said that international tribunals like the ones in Uganda and Bosnia-Herzegovina are difficult to operate because of costs. The main target of the global millennium is the reduction of poverty. To the United Nations, hundreds of millions of dollars would be better used to reduce poverty than to punish a man who has died. It makes no sense if during this new millennium we still search for war. If we keep digging the past, we will not have time to build anything.

Are you satisfied with the results of human rights trials in Indonesia over cases in Timor Leste?

Let's not discuss results. This is a social and political process which is moving very slowly. This is indeed a brave act on the part of the Indonesian government. Timor Leste must learn from this process in Indonesia and support this democratic process. Because, we will need support from Indonesia towards our own democratic efforts, which is also moving very slowly.

But many are disappointed over the results of these ad hoc trials. No generals were punished. How come?

This is not a case of being satisfied or not. In my view, the past is the past, while the future is our destination.

Besides Wiranto, you also met with President Megawati. What did you discuss?

Before heading towards the presidential election, President Megawati wants to revise what exists between the two countries. One of the topics we discussed was the issue of Wiranto. This subject matter has long been a topic of bilateral relations between the two countries. We stress again that relations between the two countries are important.

Is it true Megawati asked Timor Leste to urge the United Nations not to form an international human rights tribunal?

Both countries can cooperate with the international community to adopt a broader and comprehensive understanding. Indonesia and Timor Leste will cooperate to form a truth and reconciliation commission.

Will the commission operate bilaterally or multilaterally?

I cannot say anything just now. Timor Leste and Indonesia have agreed to cooperate. We will also communicate with the international public so that both countries can mutually benefit.

Indonesia will have a presidential election. Which figure do you think can win?

We salute the democratic process in Indonesia. As a neighbor, we must observe each other. We raise our hats because the general elections in Indonesia proceeded smoothly and peacefully. We salute you because this will be the first direct presidential election. The elections in Indonesia will be a model of democracy in the world. I think the Indonesian people must be proud, and as a neighbor, we join in the pride of such an achievement. Because in the globalized world, what happens outside our borders affect our own situation too. I hope the presidential election will also proceed smoothly.

Two former military officers, Wiranto and Yudhoyono, are presidential candidates. What is your view about this?

I don't believe that two people like Wiranto and Bambang Yudhoyono can alter the path of reforms. I believe, these two ex-military officers will not reverse Indonesia back to the New Order. The Indonesian people will accept and continue with the process of democracy.

Which Indonesian presidential candidate would be the best to maintain bilateral relations between Indonesia and Timor Leste?

I have friends in the military, among civilians and the private sector. The past is the past. Whoever will be voted in by the Indonesian people, I am confident there will be enough attention given to the bilateral relations of our two countries.

Many people in Timor Leste don't seem to like Wiranto. Is it true Wiranto is not the candidate Timor Leste is hoping for?

I don't believe that at all. The issue of Timor Leste in the past is not a personal matter of Wiranto. It was a state affair. If Wiranto is elected as Indonesian President, I will send him congratulations as rapidly as possible. This is not only my personal opinion. It is the position of the country in the current world context.

You have been president for three years. How is Timor Leste developing so far?

Very positive. Globally, the process is going well. After September 1999, after the referendum, Timor Leste was truly destroyed. All buildings were burnt down. We started from zero. There was no government at all. Our people understand that this would be a long process.

What are the problems faced by Timor Leste?

Many, still many problems. Many of the Timore Leste population are still poor. Foreign investment has not quite worked yet. As a result, employment figures are far from expectations. That is why I hope Indonesian investors will come to Timor Leste and invest their capital there. Some are already there, but we need a lot more.

But doesn't Timor Leste have control over the Timor Gap which contains oil?

That's our hope. Furthermore, a country like ours cannot depend totally on the oil explorations. Oil will not always become our prime commodity. Besides, natural resources will have their limits. Look at Brunei Darussalam: so far the people are holding on to oil. But gradually oil sources will be depleted. Brunei must change its economic orientation.

How are bilateral relations between Indonesia and Timor Leste?

Progress can already be seen since 1999. During my first visit to Indonesia, in November 1999, I told the people and Government of Indonesia that we only want to see the future. Timor Leste wants to build cooperation that is peaceful and with mutual respect. This will become the basis of our relations. For the past four years, this has gone well. You can see for yourself how many Indonesian companies are in Timor Leste. I hope by next year, we can have a cultural exchange.

What problems remain?

There are still problems between Timor Leste and Indonesia. Regarding borders, areas, for instance, there are problems. But we hope in the not so distant future all issues of borders will soon be solved. Because Indonesia is our closest neighbor, and we see a bright future for good relations.

Domestically, you often have differences with Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri and Foreign Minister Ramos Horta. So how are you governing Timor Leste?

Indeed, we are still in the learning mode. But look, we can differ in opinion on a lot of issues, including that of Wiranto. But I see those differences of view as normal in a democratic life. Most important, we can manage those differences so that it does not become destructive conflicts.

Which is the most difficult: being a guerilla commander in the jungles fighting Indonesia, or being a president of Timor Leste?

Both are difficult. The difference is one leads troops in the jungle and the enemy is just one-the Indonesian Armed Forces. But now I have many foes: unemployment, crime, legal issues and others.

You used to be firm and hard. Why do you now appear as compromising?

Time does change people. When I was fighting in the jungles, my options were to live or die. But now I have so many problems to manage. As President of Timor Leste I prioritize development and ensure that all Timor Leste citizens can eat. I will do everything I can to reach those goals. Even in the matter of Wiranto, for example, I was protested by you people, but I continued on. I have confidence in the principles I chose.

When you are no longer president, what will you do?

I will bring up Alexandro, my son. Then I will be a farmer to feed my family.

sidebar: Jose Alexander "Kay Rala" Xanana Gusmao

Place & Date of Birth:

Manatuto (East Timor), June 20, 1946


Seminary at Dare, just outside Dili (1964-1968) Journalism School in Australia (1972-1974)


Reporter, the daily Avezde Nmor-The Voice of Timor (1969-1972) With Ramos Horta, formed the daily Nacroma (1974-1975) Joined Fretilin (1975) and went into the jungles to be its commander Captured and became a political prisoner in Indonesia (1992-1999) President of Timor Leste (2001-to date)

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