Global Policy Forum

Timor Ghosts Haunt Indonesian Poll


By Sian Powell

Weekend Australian
March 22, 2004

Accused war criminal, love-song crooner and charismatic speaker: Wiranto is an oddity even among Indonesia's eccentric array of presidential candidates. Five years ago he was in charge of the nation's brutal armed forces and the master-mind of the relentless battle to hold on to East Timor. These days Wiranto is a modern political campaigner, handing out books and CDs, wooing his audiences with platitudes about stability, security and prosperity. Huge banners bearing his face are hung behind the rostrum, and his memoirs (in Indonesian and English) titled Witness in the Storm: Truth Revealed by Wiranto are piled up to be given away. Once former dictator Suharto's favourite soldier, Wiranto sees himself as Indonesia's next president - his hand on the tiller, his eyes on the horizon. And his boot, critics would say, on the necks of the dissidents. Smooth, suave and inscrutably Javanese, Wiranto has denied all responsibility for the carnage in East Timor in the months before and after the 1999 referendum on independence. More than 1500 people dead, villages destroyed, beatings, assaults and torture - Indonesian army officers have been implicated in all manner of crimes in East Timor. In his best politician's manner, the retired four-star general tells a lunch of overseas reporters in Jakarta that responsibility for the carnage should not be sheeted home to him simply because he was armed forces chief at the time. "I am a military person," he says. "I don't like bloodshed." As for those who maintain the principle of chain-of-command is enough to implicate him, Wiranto responds that US general William Westmoreland was not considered guilty of the My Lai massacre because he was in charge in Vietnam. "I truly believe and feel that as a part of the Indonesian people, I have to do something," he says. "I know I can do something better for Indonesia - to better Indonesia."

Yet some of us remember when armed forces commander General Wiranto flew into a frightened East Timor in July 1999. He was there for some hours, accompanied by almost half the Indonesian cabinet. The visit was intended to demonstrate Jakarta's good intentions on the independence ballot, but Wiranto wasn't talking. He hid behind his favourite gold-rimmed aviator sunglasses and studiously ignored the journalists clamouring for answers. Why couldn't thousands of heavily armed Indonesian troops control the violence that had erupted across East Timor? Would there be any investigation into allegations the Indonesian military was controlling and funding the militias? Wiranto had been to East Timor three months earlier, after two horrible massacres. In Liquica, west of Dili, a huddle of frightened East Timorese had hidden in a church, where they were mown down with bullets and machetes. Witnesses said Indonesian troops stood behind the militia members, firing their guns. At least 25 East Timorese were killed. Earlier in April, militias had attacked the house of independence crusader Manuel Carrascalao, killing 12 people including his 18-year-old son. Wiranto made the militias, the troops and the independence rebels sign a peace agreement and rapidly left town. Yet in July, when the general returned to East Timor, the threat was still there. It had become common knowledge the military was behind the militias, although the UN persisted in talking about "rogue elements" in the Indonesian army. Indonesian foreign minister Ali Alatas was left to do the talking that hot day in Dili, and he assured journalists security would be maintained, as agreed, for the ballot. The Indonesian delegation's official visit, he said, demonstrated the Indonesian government's acceptance of the task. "It shows our government's determination and our sincerity and our seriousness to really implement what we agreed to do," he said. Alatas admitted there were "some sporadic events that should not have happened" but said they were "being overcome". That was July. Within three months, East Timor was a smoking ruin. Wiranto has been dodging the accusations ever since.

In December 1999, a commission of inquiry set up by the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights found Wiranto responsible for atrocities in East Timor in September 1999, the month after East Timorese overwhelmingly chose independence. But he was never tried by Indonesia's human rights tribunal on East Timor, dubbed a giant whitewash by international observers. The UN's Serious Crimes Unit in East Timor has indicted Wiranto and six other high-level Indonesian military officers, as well as many junior officers, but judges have yet to issue an arrest warrant for Wiranto. The indictment says he was responsible for "crimes against humanity - murder, deportation and persecution, for failing to punish or prevent crimes committed by his subordinates or those acting under his effective control in the period before and after the 1999 popular consultation in East Timor". On the weekend, the unit filed yet more evidence to convince the judges to speedily issue a warrant, and there are plans to publicly release some of the evidence. Indonesia will never send the military man back to East Timor to face justice, but if an arrest warrant is forwarded to Interpol, it could make things sticky for the political hopeful. Wiranto is already on the US visa watch list, a fact leaked to the press last year. He shrugged it off, but an Interpol arrest warrant could prove a major embarrassment. For now though he is concentrating on the political campaign, zipping around the country in a chartered plane, running a schedule as busy as any US presidential candidate. Wiranto's campaign headquarters are half-way up a skyscraper, he has the benefit of some US political know-how, and he's playing the "return to stability" card for all he's worth. On April 18, soon after the parliamentary elections of April 5, Wiranto will front the Golkar political party's selection machine. Up against five others, including party leader Akbar Tandjung, Wiranto will find the going tough. If he were to win he would then face a head-to-head battle with President Megawati Sukarnoputri, leader of the Indonesian Democratic Pary of Struggle (PDI-P), in the presidential contest in July. But Tandjung is the odds-on favourite to become the choice of Golkar, which is leading most respected opinion polls. Wiranto has travelled through 30 provinces in three months, he says, to see if he was popular enough to stand for president. He found he was. "I have full support, ample support from the people," he says. "The people understand they need a leader with a very strong character. They need a leader with morals and character for Indonesia's future."

More Information on International Justice
More Information on General Wiranto
More Information on the Ad-Hoc Court for East Timor


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