Subject: ABC: PM - East Timorese judge issues warrant for Wiranto's arrest

ABC Online

PM - East Timorese judge issues warrant for Wiranto's arrest

[This is the print version of story]

PM - Monday, 10 May , 2004 18:18:29 Reporter: Tim Palmer MARK COLVIN: Indonesia's former military commander in chief, General Wiranto, is a man of shifting fortunes. Just a few weeks ago, he tasted his first ballot box victory, storming to the presidential nomination for the Golkar Party, formerly led by President Suharto. But just weeks before the Presidential campaign is due to begin, an East Timorese judge has issued a warrant for Wiranto's arrest on war crimes charges.

Our Indonesia Correspondent, Tim Palmer, joins me on the line from Jakarta.

Tim how did this news become public?

TIM PALMER: Well it was issued directly, and a surprise even to the special team of prosecutors in East Timor, from the court in East Timor, and a surprise because it's been more than a year since the special crime unit in East Timor, which has some backing from the United Nations but is an independent international body, since they issued an indictment citing President Wiranto for these issues of command responsibility that they say amount to crimes against humanity, specifically over the deaths of 1,400 people and the forced evacuation of many thousands of people in the lead up to East Timor's independence.

So it was a surprise, the timing, after a year, and especially given the political timing here in Indonesia.

MARK COLVIN: Has General Wiranto made any reaction, or has there been any reaction from his political machine?

TIM PALMER: No. He's in fact involved in some fairly tight negotiations at the moment in Surabaya for his vice presidential nominee, who looks like being Gus Dur's brother, the former president's brother, a person who was as a leading figure in Indonesian human rights movements, so quite a peculiar situation developing there.

But nothing from the General. He has said most recently that he's already stood trial over East Timor. He cites the fact that he's been in a court and given some evidence, but he's never actually had to go into the dock, either in Indonesia or anywhere else to defend himself over these issues, no matter what he says.

MARK COLVIN: He's never been charged, you're saying?

TIM PALMER: He's never been charged, and he didn't face the ad hoc tribunal that was set up in Jakarta that largely whitewashed most of those military figures that did go before it in Indonesia in any case, but he's ah, his supporters have over the past few months pushed this line that while an indictment has been issued, East Timor wasn't willing to go any further, and that's why an arrest warrant hadn't been issued, and wasn't going to be issued.

So this certainly pulls the rug from under that line of defence.

MARK COLVIN: Well Golkar and its supporters knew very well that this was looming one way or another, that it was a possibility when they put him in. Why do you think they went ahead?

TIM PALMER: Possibly because they're not very worried about it to some extent. Wiranto, this singing General has waged a fairly strong grass roots campaign across the country, appealing to people even though Golkar probably still only has a fairly minor amount of support for the presidency, but the people he has appealed to, like his idea of strength and a return to the kind of tough military values that he represents.

And at the same time, you have to realise, that as Foreign Minister Alexander Downer put it at the time when Wiranto gained this nomination, he wouldn't criticise Wiranto directly because to do so would probably only in Indonesia perversely give him more support…

MARK COLVIN: …because it would seem like foreign interference?

TIM PALMER: It is this classic line in Indonesia, as you say, of foreign interference, of people intervening and trying to attack and undermine Indonesia…

MARK COLVIN: But it's still, I mean there is still this spectre of him becoming like Milosovic or Ratko Mladic or somebody like that who's just persona non grata everywhere. I mean, can Indonesians really contemplate even the possibility, the outside possibility, let's put it as far as that, that they could have a president in that position?

TIM PALMER: Well, you have to look at it that the prosecutors in East Timor will probably now move very quickly, as they have with other people who have had warrants issued, to have him listed on Interpol. So he's going to enter this period where he, he probably wouldn't be able to travel without being arrested.

Having said that, the safest place for a person in that position is probably the presidency. If you look at the example of a case such as Ariel Sharon, who, before his election was considered in Israel under command responsibility by most Israelis as unelectable for exactly the same reason, and yet his ascent to the prime ministership was the best thing for him because while in the office, there seems to be a convention of not pursuing matters like this, and I think Wiranto would probably feel the same thing.

Probably at this stage, though, he is such an outsider for the presidency that he is looking down the barrel of being restricted to Indonesia, or facing arrest.

MARK COLVIN: Okay Tim Palmer, thank you very much.

© 2004 Australian Broadcasting Corporation

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