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Presidential Hopeful General Wiranto Requests Meeting With E. Timor Leader - 2004-05-26


Indonesian presidential hopeful General Wiranto has requested a meeting with the leader of neighboring East Timor. East Timor has issued a warrant for the general's arrest on charges of crimes against humanity committed as Timor voted for independence five years ago.

The decision earlier this month by a special court in East Timor to issue an arrest warrant for General Wiranto reopened a bitter issue between the two countries. The general is today one of the leading contenders in Indonesia's presidential election, but five years ago he was the country's defense minister and head of the armed forces.

United Nations prosecutors say he was responsible for the carnage carried out by the Indonesian army and the militias they commanded just before and after East Timor's vote for independence from Indonesia in 1999.

General Wiranto denies the accusations, but an aide said Wednesday that the general wants to meet East Timor President Xanana Gusmao to discuss the issue.

Shortly after the court issued the arrest warrant, East Timor's prosecutor general attempted to have it revised, a move that proved unpopular.

"I think people have been outraged ever since the attempt of the withdrawal of the case against Wiranto from the court by the general prosecutor and I think this meeting is not going to make the people very happy," said Jaoquim Fonseca, a lecturer at East Timor's university and human rights activist.

East Timor is deeply divided on the issue of bringing those responsible for the crimes of 1999 to justice. Dozens of East Timorese have been convicted and sentenced for their roles. However, the country's leaders, including President Gusmao, have been reluctant to press for the prosecution of Indonesians, wary of provoking East Timor's huge neighbor.

General Wiranto's staff members say they hope the meeting could take place as early as Saturday on the Indonesian island of Bali. President Gusmao's office declined to comment beyond confirming that he was planning to travel to Bali in a few days on a private visit.

President Gusmao has said he favors reconciliation and that he will be able to work with whomever the Indonesians elect president.

General Wiranto is currently running second in voter surveys, and analysts say the accusations in East Timor have not substantially hurt his chances. But they say that a public reconciliation with President Gusmao would make it much easier for the international community to come to terms with the general as a potential Indonesian leader.

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