E. Timor massacre suspects listed

Indonesia named 19 for questioning Friday, omitting some high-profile military officers.

It is a list more notable for those who didn't make it than those who did.

Last Friday, Indonesia named 19 officials, military, and militiamen who are suspected in the violence in East Timor that took place after the vote for independence one year ago. But the absence of some key, high-ranking military officers from the list has critics protesting that Indonesia is still protecting the guilty from prosecution.

Chief investigator Muhammad Abdul Rachman fielded the inevitable questions Friday: What about former military chief General Wiranto? Or former intelligence chief Lt-Gen. Zacky Anwar? And if the murder of Dutch journalist Sander Thoenes, a contributor to the Monitor, was one of the five cases being investigated, why not implicate Lt. Col. Yacob Sarosa, commander of Batallion 745, whose members are suspected of slaying Thoenes? In January, an independent team from the National Human Rights Commission recommended 33 people for prosecution. "We are not closing the possibility of naming new suspects," Mr. Rachman says.

The United Nations and East Timorese hope for the same. Sergio Vieira de Mello, head of the UN Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET), said, "This is only the beginning.... For us, the glass is half full and will continue to be filled."

Former East Timorese guerrilla leader and possible future president Jos Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmo was also accommodating, advising the international community to "have confidence in the investigators."

"The failure to list Wiranto and Zacky doesn't mean they're off the hook," said Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Joe Saunders: It may just indicate that, for the moment, attorney general [Marzuki Darusman] doesn't have a case against them that would hold up."

Indeed, he doesn't. The suspects announced are those he is "confident" of having enough evidence to prosecute against in a criminal court, says Rachman. Indonesia's Constitution, amended just weeks ago, now states that past crimes cannot be prosecuted under new laws. The current criminal code does not recognize crimes against humanity and crimes of omission. Under these circumstances, Munir, of the National Human Rights Commission's investigative team on East Timor, or KPP-HAM, predicts that "A trial would free the suspects."

The Thoenes case is especially problematic. Detailed eyewitness and family accounts attribute to Battalion 745 at least 20 disappearances and murders in the weeks following the Aug. 30 vote last year. But according to H.S. Dillon, a member of the KPP-HAM, which interrogated Lt.-Col. Sarosa, much of the evidence is circumstantial, "and Sarosa had denied everything." As yet, Indonesian authorities have not questioned any witnesses to the murder, including Thoenes' driver, Florindo da Conceicao Araujo. Mr. Araujo has just returned to East Timor after having been removed to Australia for his safety.

Gathering evidence against notorious militia leaders such as Eurico Guterres has been cumbersome, adds Dillon, what with thousands of militias forming a blockade around Mr. Guterres and his peers every time the authorities attempt an interrogation. The prosecutors now hope that the current suspects will buckle under interrogation and testify against their superiors. But many Indonesians are skeptical that any of the officers will betray their soldier's oath.

The probe rests on a contested presidential decree signed in 1999 calling for a human rights tribunal. This draft bill states that every official "who allows or fails to prevent his or her subordinates from committing gross human rights violations is liable to face the same possible punishment as those who directly commit violations." This charge of omission, says the KPP-HAM, would apply to Wiranto and other generals.

But the return of Suharto-era elements into the political establishment has reversed optimism for the tribunal. Even Wiranto, fired by President Abdurrahman Wahid in February from his chief security minister post, still exercises influence over the military and the government. The same politicians who vowed to curb military influence within the government, specifically by eliminating its 38 seats in parliament by 2004, are now courting the generals. Pragmatism plays a part; with separatist violence on the rise in the provinces of Aceh and Irian Jaya, Wahid can't afford to further antagonize the military, particularly its alleged rogue elements.

It is in this conservative mood that parliament has refused to enact the tribunal into law, and rejected a clause for retroactivity in the Constitution regarding human rights violations. "We are told to throw people in jail, but we're not given the resources to do so. We are imprisoned by the law," says Munir.

Criticism from the international community has merely sparked a nationalist backlash. Justice Minister Yusril Izra Mahendra, whose portfolio addresses human rights cases, says if pushed to implement the retroactive principle, "we could also demand that the Dutch and Japanese government [compensate] for [past] war crimes committed during the independence war and their periods of occupation."

The military is closing ranks. Insinuations of its ties to the militias in Timor are rejected. The deaths of two peacekeepers this summer has heightened calls for Indonesia to control the militias. But in response to the UN request that that the army cease support of militia excursions along the West Timor and East Timor border, chief security minister and retired general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said, "The allegations are baseless. There is no military training for the militias."

UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson reiterated last month that the UN would call for an international tribunal if Jakarta's efforts failed to bring the perpetrators to court, but a full-scale tribunal is unlikely to take place without the support of the Security Council. A compromise, should a domestic trial fail to appease the international community, would be a joint tribunal between Indonesia and the UN. Yet legal experts say this would be an unfamiliar and protracted path to take.

That's good news to the suspects, and Indonesian politicians still nursing the wounds of defeat, many of whom had sympathized with the military's efforts to maintain "national unity" and keep East Timor part of Indonesia. The old-guard nationalists are fighting for stability and sovereignty, and any East Timor tribunal would disrupt the fragile semblance of territorial cohesion. Says analyst Kusnanto Anggoro from the Center for Strategic and International Studies: "It's all about politics, not morality."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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