No-show by Wiranto at abuse inquiry

Ex-defence chief is said to need more time to prepare for probe into alleged East Timor atrocities.

FORMER Indonesian military chief General Wiranto yesterday failed to turn up at an inquiry into human-rights abuses in East Timor, but his lawyers said this was because of preparations for a stronger defence against allegations of his complicity in the atrocities.

Others close to the Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs said the deeper reason for his absence was his concern that such public proceedings would only humiliate him and further dent his political standing here.

Gen Wiranto, who was Defence Minister and armed forces chief at the time East Timor convulsed into violence after the August independence vote, was scheduled to appear yesterday before a government-appointed investigation panel.

Investigators believe that he and his subordinates should be held accountable for the violence as they knew it was taking place but failed to stop it.

Sources said that although the hearing date had been fixed in advance and approved by his lawyers – who include human-rights advocate Adnan Buyung Nasution – the team called the panel at the last minute to ask for more time.

“We got a phone call this morning from the lawyers,” Mr Asmara Nababan, a panel member, told reporters. “We received reports that in order to produce better explanations, the investigation has to be postponed.”

Political observers said Gen Wiranto appeared to be “showing the hallmarks of running a bit scared” but they said it was likely he was more worried about the “show trial” nature of the inquiry than by any case the commission might have against him.

Said a western diplomat: “It is humiliating for a conservative Javanese general to stand in the dock. Politically, it is very damaging because it undercuts his standing in the Cabinet and in society at large.”

Academic Affan Ghaffar, slated to be a political assistant to Gen Wiranto, told The Straits Times that given the allegations, it was only fair the defence got more time.

But he also acknowledged it would be difficult for Gen Wiranto to face the panel, especially since subordinates implicated in the East Timor fiasco, including former intelligence chief Zacky Anwar Makarim and ex-Jakarta commander Syafrie Syamsuddin, have been scheduled for hearings only after him.

“The Javanese place a lot of emphasis on hierarchy,” Mr Affan said.

“Here you have a situation in which he is called up to answer allegations when people lower than him have not even gone for the inquiry. Gen Wiranto is, of course, not happy with this.”

Separately, President Abdurrahman Wahid said yesterday Jakarta would not allow its generals to be tried in an international war crimes tribunal now being considered by the United Nations.

According to the Associated Press, the President said Indonesia’s judicial system, not the UN, should be the one to bring those responsible for atrocities in East Timor to justice.

“Indonesia does not want an international tribunal to judge Wiranto and other military leaders,” he said, describing the issue as a matter of “national sovereignty”.

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