The new president of Indonesia, Abdurrahman Wahid, is supposed to be ushering in a new era of civilian control after the ouster of Suharto’s military dictatorship. But seven months after Wahid gained office, the Indonesian military is still firmly in control.
Wahid can’t punish those responsible for the election massacres in East Timor last year. After Indonesian human rights investigators issued a report that named puppetmaster General Wiranto and five other officers as ultimately responsible for the massacres, Wahid stalled. The report was issued while Wahid was on a long trip, and rumors flew in Jakarta that the military would seize control of the government. So the president did little. In mid-February, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan gave Wahid’s government an ultimatum: remove Wiranto from office and bring these men to trial or else get ready for an international war crimes tribunal. Wahid responded by asking Wiranto to step down, but also promised Wiranto that he would pardon him if he is ever convicted of human rights abuses. Wiranto nevertheless refused to resign, and Wahid declared that Wiranto could keep his job. But six hours after his announcement, Wahid was forced to bow to intense international pressure; he fired General Wiranto from his position as Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs. Indonesian Attorney-General Marzuki Darusman promised Kofi Annan: “In a limit of three months, we will have a trial process.” That period is now halfway over, and nothing has happened yet.
Meanwhile, the Indonesian military continues to support the militias operating across the West Timor border. In mid-February Wahid promised Kofi Annan that he would curb militia incursions into East Timor from West Timor. Yet only last Monday, U.N. peacekeepers in East Timor reported that the Indonesian military is helping the militias re-arm and cross the border into East Timor, where the militias have been harassing civilians and shooting at U.N. personnel. As if to embarrass and mock Wahid, militia violence increased immediately after President Wahid visited East Timor on February 29 and made a public apology for Indonesia’s role in destroying the country.
Wahid has also ordered the Indonesian military to dismantle the refugee camps in West Timor that the militias use as their main base, but to no avail.
Wahid also continues to make excuses for the Indonesian military’s role in murdering civilians in Aceh province. Wahid claims that the human rights situation is improving in Aceh, but witnesses on the ground say otherwise. The Red Cross reported last week that military atrocities in Aceh are “commonplace,” and that the situation in Aceh is “very critical.” The numbers are bad: about 30 people disappear every week and most are never found. At least 300 corpses have turned up so far this year, many with their hands cut off. Amnesty International reports that military attacks against human rights activists in Aceh have escalated recently. Likening it to the situation in East Timor prior to the election massacres, the Amnesty report says: “These attacks on activists are creating an environment in which the security forces can torture and kill free from any kind of scrutiny, and ultimately, accountability.”
Wahid’s government has also been unable to prosecute 20 army officers accused of masterminding last year’s massacre in West Aceh. The government claims it lacks the funds; however, its main problem is that it lacks its key witness, Lieutenant-Colonel Sudjono, who has disappeared–likely gone to the same mass grave as many Acehnese and Timorese.
In spite of all this, U.S. President Bill Clinton has allowed U.S. military advisors to resume training Indonesian military personnel. So much for supporting civilian government.
When Suharto fell from power, there was a lot of talk about de-fanging the military that supported him. This same military force butchered thousands of Indonesians when Suharto took power: it hunted down trade unionists, communists, socialists, human rights activists, members of political opposition parties, and anyone who criticized Suharto or his policies. The military supported Suharto’s crony capitalism, as he and his family and friends stole billions of dollars from the Indonesian economy and left it in ruins. It’s the military that now ensures that Suharto and his supporters will never come to trial for their crimes. It’s this same military that now holds Wahid on a leash.
So Wahid has given up trying to discipline the Indonesian military. In fact, he has gone one step further and turned into an apologist. On March 20, Wahid kissed up to his military handlers: “We have witnessed, from the very beginning of this nation, that the military has always come to the defense of our national interests.”
>From Suharto to Habibie to Wahid: the figurehead changes, but everything else remains the same.