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Indonesian General Goes On Trial

The head of Indonesia's special forces has gone on trial before a human rights court in the capital Jakarta for his alleged involvement in a civilian massacre almost 20 years ago. But there is skepticism among human rights activists that such a senior member of the country's powerful military will be held accountable.

In 1984, Major General Sriyanto Muntrasan was a captain in the special forces when troops under his command opened fire on a crowd protesting against the arrest of several prominent Muslim leaders.

The death toll from the so-called Tanjung Priok massacre is disputed, but estimates range from 18 to over 300.

General Sriyanto appeared in court Thursday to be indicted on charges of crimes against humanity and could face the death penalty if convicted. Speaking outside the court, he said he was not guilty, adding that he believed that what he had done at the time was right.

Human rights activists say Indonesia's special forces, known as Kopassus, have been responsible for numerous abuses, including the destruction of East Timor in 1999.

General Sriyanto is one of fourteen soldiers and officers charged in connection with the Tanjung Priok. Because the military still wields considerable power in Indonesia, rights activists are skeptical about authorities holding General Sriyanto and others accountable.

Munir is the executive director of Imparsial, a local human rights monitoring group. He says he is not confident that the trials will end in a conviction.

"I think this is not a good chance because the big names in that case still have big protection and I think this trial is with no big support of the Indonesian people because they are still afraid of the military," said Munir.

The Tanjung Priok massacre radicalized a whole generation of young Muslim activists and soured relations between the government of the then-president, Suharto, and conservative Muslims.

Some analysts say the massacre gave a significant boost to the rise of militant Islam, which has flowered so malignantly in Jemaah Islamiyah, the al-Qaida affiliate behind the Bali bombings.