As Indonesian prosecutors stepped up their investigation of soldiers for involvement in the atrocities that followed East Timor's independence vote last September, a senior general signaled the military is digging in.
Maj. Gen. Kiki Syahnakri, Indonesia's senior commander in East Timor after the August vote, denied last week that former Monitor contributor Sander Thoenes, suspected to have been killed by Indonesian soldiers on Sept. 21, had died of a gunshot wound.
"Even the officers of the International Force in East Timor (INTERFET) said that he didn't have gunshot wounds," General Syahnakri told reporters after four hours of questioning by prosecutors over the rampage in East Timor last September, while he was responsible for security in the territory.
Syahnakri had acknowledged Thoenes was shot and killed last year. Analysts in Jakarta said his comments appear aimed at creating the impression locally that the circumstances of Thoenes's killing - one of five East Timor cases given priority by Attorney General Marzuki Darusman - are not known.
He also continued to deny widespread military backing for the violence. "Nothing much happened" during 18 days of martial law under his command that September, Syahnakri said. During that time, hundreds of East Timorese were killed and more than 200,000 people were forced from their homes and across the border into Indonesia's West Timor. The operation was conducted by militias with the support of Indonesian soldiers.
The general is now chief of the Udayana Military Command overseeing security in Bali and neighboring islands.
His comments sharply contradict the findings of INTERFET and various international investigators. Australian coroner Gregory Cavanagh, working with the aid of INTERFET reports and a detailed forensic autopsy, found that Thoenes had died from a single gunshot wound to the chest and that "it is probable that a member or members of the 745 Battalion of the [Indonesian Army] shot the deceased."
International human rights groups, the United Nations, and Indonesian investigators have all found that senior Indonesian officers were complicit in the killings in East Timor.
Mr. Darusman said in an interview with the Monitor at the end of May that prosecutors would bring officers to trial by August on charges of involvement with the violence in East Timor. Darusman and human rights activists have repeatedly complained of military efforts to block the investigations, ranging from refusing to produce key witnesses to intimidation.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society