Susilo and defence chief clash over generals' defiance

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 April, 2008, 12:00am

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono are locked in a dispute over whether former generals implicated in human rights abuses should co-operate with investigators.

The spat began in February when the national human rights commission, Komnas Ham, summoned generals allegedly involved in abuses in Talangsari, Lampung province, in February 1989.

The incident saw up to 246 people killed when the National Army (TNI) attacked a group of civilians whose leader, Warsidi, was accused of being anti-Suharto and an advocator of an Islamic state.

The inquiry has been on and off, but when Komnas Ham summoned three former generals and Dr Juwono, the former co-ordinating minister for politics and security, only the latter complied. Before Komnas Ham issued a second summons last month, Dr Juwono shielded the generals, saying 'retired servicemen should not appear if summoned, because the commission's investigation has no legal force'.

Dr Juwono repeated his comment several times over the next few weeks, despite Dr Susilo - also a former TNI general - ordering 'all government institutions to support any investigations or examinations into alleged human rights abuses conducted by the rights body'.

NGOs have asked Dr Susilo to take action against Dr Juwono. But in accordance with national culture - which abhors direct confrontation - the two heavyweights have taken care not to refer directly to the other's position, while sitting on opposite sides of the fence.

According to Beni Sukadis, an analyst at the Indonesian Institute for Defence and Strategic Studies, the spat results from the enormous pressure that former generals are putting on Dr Juwono - once considered among Dr Susilo's closest allies.

'The important thing is that the president must be firm. If he said that Komnas Ham should investigate, then that must happen,' he said.

TNI generals have in the past defied summonses from Komnas Ham. But this time the defiance is being used to oppose a ruling by the Constitutional Court, which last August upheld the principle of a retroactive trial in the human rights tribunal, if requested by Komnas Ham or the Attorney-General's Office.

Dr Juwono's first comment was made after meeting former TNI chief Wiranto, who has been indicted by the UN for human rights abuses in East Timor, but who nevertheless stood as a presidential candidate in 2004 and is expected to run again next year. At the meeting, Wiranto lamented the Constitutional Court's decision.

Last Tuesday, several former generals met in Jakarta and called for the abolition of the principle of retroactivity as well as the sacking of those within Komnas Ham who are probing past abuses.

TNI chief General Djoko Santoso has not commented on the retroactivity but has said the TNI would leave the inquiry into the Talangsari case to the rights body, as long as the probe was conducted in accordance with the constitution and the principle of the presumption of innocence.

The neutrality policy is a change from the TNI's former practice - it used to provide legal assistance to active and retired soldiers implicated in crimes, and demanded a joint civilian and military investigation for offences involving retirees.

The three implicated in the Talangsari case are Try Sutrisno, then army chief of staff; Wismoyo Arismunandar, ex-special forces commander; and Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono, another ex-special forces commander.

Mr Try went on to become vice-president to former dictator Suharto, and Mr Abdullah later headed the intelligence service.

Komnas Ham began the investigation into the Talangsari case in June 2001. Later, it formed a team of inquiry whose investigation ended in May 2006. The findings are yet to be subjected to legal analysis, and the summonses are part of this process.

The results will be discussed at a Komnas Ham plenary meeting and, if rights violations are found, the case could be settled in a human rights tribunal, which can act retroactively.

In February 2000 Mr Abdullah invited 80 victims and their families to discuss a peaceful settlement, but nothing came of the attempt.

Open wound

The Talangsari massacre occurred in Lampung in February 1989

The military says 27 people were killed after security men opened fire, but NGOs put the number of dead at 246