Tuesday 25 February 2003

The United Nations today indicted Indonesia’s former armed forces commander, General Wiranto, for crimes against humanity during East Timor’s bloody 1999 vote for independence.

Gen Wiranto, regarded as the man principally responsible for the bloodletting that swept the former Indonesian territory during the UN-sponsored referendum, was indicted alongside six other senior generals and the ex-governor of East Timor, Abilio Soares.

However, it seems doubtful that Indonesia will hand over any of those indicted to the court in Dili, East Timor’s capital. Jakarta has so far refused to honour UN arrest warrants, and today said it would “simply ignore” the latest UN request.

“He [Gen Wiranto] is a free man … Why take action?” said Indonesia’s foreign minister, Hassan Wirayuda. “Who gave [the UN] the mandate to indict Indonesians, under what basis, what authority?”

The UN said in a statement: “The accused have all been charged with crimes against humanity for murder, deportation and persecution.”

The alleged crimes “were all undertaken as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against the civilian population of East Timor and specifically targeted those who were believed to be supporters of independence for East Timor”.

The mandate for the Dili court covers all crimes committed in 1999 in East Timor, irrespective of whether the suspects are East Timorese or Indonesian. So far it has indicted 178 people, but 106 of those – including 12 Indonesian soldiers – remain free in Indonesia. Thus far Indonesia has not sent any of its nationals to East Timor to face trials in such cases.

Prosecutors in Dili have sent the warrants for the latest eight indictments to the attorney general’s office and will forward them to the international law enforcement agency, Interpol. Under East Timorese law, the charges carry a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment.

“I accept that we can’t at the moment effect those arrest warrants,” said Stuart Alford, a prosecutor with the serious crimes unit in Dili. “But that doesn’t mean we are the only people who can play their part in this. It’s now up to other people outside the prosecutor’s office in East Timor to decide what direction this investigation and prosecution will take.”

Human rights groups, which have long called for Gen Wiranto to be held accountable for the events of August 1999, praised the indictment but said they will only be satisfied when the UN establishes an international tribunal for East Timor, similar to that used to prosecute war crimes suspects in Rwanda and Yugoslavia.

“This is more of a political victory than a legal victory,” said Agung Yudhawiranata, a court observer for the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy, an Indonesian human rights group.

“We know Wiranto will not be handed over to the Dili court but hopefully it will send a shock to the Indonesian government, which has failed to indict Wiranto and put pressure on the international community to set up an international tribunal.”

Lawyers for the men, all of whom are believed to be in Indonesia, said they had yet to receive the indictment and declined to comment.

The indictment charges Gen Wiranto, six generals who were responsible for security in East Timor and ex-governor Soares with funding, training and arming the pro-Indonesia militias that joined the Indonesian military in killing more than 1,000 people and forcing 250,000 Timorese to flee their homes before and after the referendum.

The six generals are Major General Zacky Anwar Makarim, Major General Kiki Syahnakri, Major General Adam Rachmat Damiri, Colonel Suhartono Suratman, Colonel Mohammad Noer Muis and Lieutenant Colonel Yayat Sudrajat.

Last year Indonesia established a special human rights court to handle cases covering the violence in East Timor. Several of those indicted today were among 18 military and police officials already facing trial in Jakarta for their alleged involvement in the violence. Soares has been sentenced to three years, but remains free on appeal, while the trials of Mr Damiri and Mr Suratman are continuing. Mr Sudrajat has been cleared of all charges.

Jakarta points to the trials as proof of its commitment to assure justice. But human rights activists have criticised the trials as a whitewash. In total, only four suspects have been found guilty.

Today’s indictment accuses the men of involvement in 280 killings in 10 separate attacks. Among them were a church massacre in Liquica, an attack on a rally in Dili and an attack on a church compound in Dili.

In 1975, Indonesian forces invaded East Timor, annexing the former Portuguese colony the following year. After 24 years of Indonesian rule, East Timorese voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence in August 1999, despite the bloodshed by pro-Jakarta militias in which more than 1,000 people, most of them independence supporters, are thought to have died. The UN indictment says the militias acted with military backing.

The UN ran East Timor after the August 1999 vote until the territory was declared formally independent in May last year, but it still has a mission there that provides government advisers, several hundred policemen and about 2,500 peacekeeping troops.

· Around 300 UN peacekeepers combed mountains and beaches in East Timor today, searching for unidentified gunmen who opened fire yesterday on a crowded minibus and a truck, killing two people and injuring five. The UN said the incident, the latest in a series of violent episodes since East Timor became independent last May, appeared to be a botched robbery.