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Indonesia Court Acquits Top Army Official Accused of Abuses - 2004-08-12


A court in Indonesia has acquitted a senior army general accused of crimes against humanity. The verdict disappointed human rights advocates, who say it proves the Indonesian army is still beyond the law.

Major General Sriyanto Muntrasan was a captain 20 years ago when he was accused of giving the order to shoot at a group of Islamic protesters outside a police station in north Jakarta. At least 23 people died.

But on Thursday, a human rights court acquitted the general, now in charge of Indonesia's elite special forces, on all charges.

Human rights activists say the case was a test of the authorities' willingness to tackle past misdeeds of the security forces. Munir is the head of Imparsial, a human rights advocacy group in Jakarta. He and other activists say the ruling was a disappointment.

"This also gives a picture about how the Indonesian military is still strong [enough] to infiltrate not just directly into politics, but also to the criminal justice system," Mr. Munir says.

It has taken 20 years to get the case to trial because during the 32-year rule of president Suharto, himself a former general, the army was above criticism, let alone prosecution.

But when Suharto was ousted six years ago, many people hoped the armed forces would be made accountable for past abuses.

Munir and other rights advocates say the opposite is happening and that the army is regaining some of the prestige and power it lost after Suharto's downfall. The activists point to a new law being debated in parliament that would give the army a much larger role in running the country.

Many senior members of Indonesia's armed forces have been accused of human rights violations in recent years, but convictions have been rare.

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