President Abdurrahman Wahid said yesterday that the armed forces should be respected as an institution but he reiterated that individuals who make mistakes in power need to be punished. Mr Wahid stressed the need for the rule of law in a democracy. 'We should not give judgment in a general way, but in a concrete individual way according to the law,' he said in a speech at Bangkok's Thammasat University after receiving an honorary doctorate in law. He said he had told an officers' graduation in Indonesia several months ago of the need to respect the armed forces as an institution. 'But we should not be afraid of giving sentences to those individuals who are making mistakes when they were in power. I believe this attitude is the way law is established.' Mr Wahid was apparently referring to officers like Indonesia's top security minister General Wiranto, who has been suspended pending the outcome of investigations into his role in the bloodshed surrounding last year's vote for independence in East Timor. Mr Wahid said that in a democracy it was not always easy to differentiate between what one believed and what happened politically. He said this had been shown by a request by separatists in the eastern province of Irian Jaya for him to open a forthcoming congress at which independence will be discussed. 'I said to them freedom of expression means they can say whatever they want, including freedom from Indonesia, but once they organise themselves to act . . . they will be against me,' he said. 'That leaves the question of whether I should open their congress or not. 'Our intelligence people say that would mean recognition of Free Papua, but people in Papua who are trying to have freedom say, 'please come to show you are a democrat'.' Separatist leader Theys Eluay said that Mr Wahid had told him he would open the congress. Mr Wahid has been trying to redress Irianese grievances since coming to power in October, but he has ruled out independence.