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Human Rights Groups Criticize Wiranto Candidacy - 2004-04-21

Human rights groups are decrying the choice for president of Indonesia's biggest political party, pointing out that he is an indicted war criminal. Choosing former armed forces head General Wiranto places Indonesia's allies in the war on terror in a difficult position.

Mr. Wiranto stands accused of commanding Indonesian army troops who committed crimes against humanity before and immediately after East Timor's 1999 vote for independence.

Although U.N. prosecutors in East Timor have indicted him, he has never been formally charged. Indonesian courts set up to look into the violence, in which army-backed militias killed more than 1,000 people, decided they did not have a case against the retired general.

Fauzi Ichsan is an analyst with Standard Chartered Bank in Jakarta. He says the Indonesian electorate does not seem too worried by the charges, but that foreign governments may be faced with a difficult choice. "It depends on what foreign governments want out of Indonesia,' he says. "If the United States and the western countries want to continue to emphasize ? fighting terrorism and need Indonesia's cooperation, especially on fighting Islamic fundamentalism, maybe [international] opinion about Wiranto would be reconsidered." Mr. Wiranto on Tuesday was selected as the presidential candidate of the Golkar party, which won the largest share of votes in this month's general elections

While human rights activists are criticizing the choice of Mr. Wiranto, analysts see him as the strongest challenger to the front-runner, former security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Inside Indonesia, Mr. Wiranto has managed to combine a reputation as a karaoke-singing man of the people - he has released his own compact disc - with the aura of a strong, decisive leader.

Indonesia was the site of the worst terrorist attack since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, and is an important ally in the war on terrorism. Mr. Wiranto has promised to be tough on violent militants. Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim nation and the third largest democracy.