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Indonesia ex-Defense Minister Denies Crimes Against Humanity Charges - 2003-02-26

Indonesia's former defense minister says the indictment against him for crimes against humanity in East Timor is simply not true. General Wiranto was one of eight senior Indonesian officials indicted for allegedly plotting the destruction of East Timor in 1999.

The former minister says he did everything he could to ensure the stability of East Timor in the days and weeks surrounding its vote for independence. General Wiranto said he is willing to take an oath before the Indonesian people and swear he never planned human rights abuses in East Timor, including killing or arson.

United Nations prosecutors filed an indictment with an East Timor court on Tuesday, saying the general was one of seven top Indonesia army officials who committed crimes against humanity in East Timor.

The indictment also names East Timor's former governor and says the officials are responsible for widespread and systematic attacks against East Timor civilians. Armed anti-independence militia groups established and controlled by these officials carried out the attacks, according to the indictment. General Wiranto served as both minister of defense and head of Indonesia's armed forces during the tumultuous months leading up to East Timor's August 1999 independence vote - a ballot that was supervised by the United Nations. The vote let the people of East Timor determine their own political future after 24 years of sometimes-brutal occupation by Indonesian troops, which invaded in 1975. Before the vote, Indonesia insisted that the United Nations allow it to use its military and police to maintain security during the ballot.

Instead, hundreds of people died at the hands of the militias, while about a quarter million were forced to flee their homes. The violence prompted the United Nations to send in an international peacekeeping mission. Separate from East Timor's human rights investigations, which are done through the U.N. Serious Crimes Unit, Indonesia has its own human rights tribunal that is considering charges against its officials. Human rights groups have criticized that court for failing to indict General Wiranto or any other top people. But General Wiranto says he is helping the Indonesian tribunal, noting that Indonesia is using its own legal process to consider whether or not human rights abuses were committed in East Timor and that he has appeared as a witness in court.

Included in the East Timor indictment are very well known members of Indonesia's armed forces. In addition to General Wiranto, martial law commander Major General Kiki Syahnakri is charged, along with special teams commander Major General Zacky Anwar Makarim. Four regional military commanders and East Timor's former Jakarta-appointed governor are also named. Indonesia has dismissed the East Timor indictment. U.N. authorities in East Timor concede that it is unlikely any of the accused will be brought to trial because there is no extradition treaty between Indonesia and East Timor. General Wiranto retired from the armed forces three years ago. But his career may not be over. Indonesia's second largest political party, Golkar, has declared him a possible presidential candidate in the 2004 general election.