Sun, 18 Jan 2004

Wiranto shrugs off U.S. visa ban, calls it baseless

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta/Bandung

The United States State Department has reportedly put former Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gen. (ret) Wiranto and five other generals on its visa watch list, but the presidential candidate branded the report as an "old baseless issue".

Wiranto told reporters in Bandung the issue was related to rivalry in the upcoming presidential election here.

"It is an old issue but I have proven that I had no difficulties when I went overseas to Singapore and China. All of sudden this (issue) resurfaces, perhaps to color the presidential campaign," Wiranto said.

Wiranto, who is one of Golkar Party's presidential candidates, was in Bandung to meet the Sundanese community under the Paguyuban Pasundan. He was also scheduled to meet Abah Anom, a respected Muslim cleric who runs the Suralaya Islamic boarding school in Tasikmalaya, West Java.

He said if the report that he was declared persona non grata in the U.S. was continuously disseminated to the public, the move would be intended to foil his bid for the presidency.

"It has been alleged that I have been involved in various communal clashes in the past and in the recent Bank BNI scam, and certain groups have branded me a crooked politician, Now they are renewing the attack with the report that I and a number of generals have been barred from entering some countries," Wiranto said.

U.S. daily Washington Post reported on Friday that the U.S. government had accused Wiranto and five former military officers of war crimes in East Timor and put them on a visa watch list barring them from entering the country.

The identity of the five others was not immediately available.

Quoting anonymous State Department officials, the daily said the move expressed Washington's frustration following Jakarta's refusal to bring the officers to an international tribunal as well as Indonesia's failure to prosecute them for the crimes against humanity in East Timor in 1999.

But spokesman for the U.S. State Department Richard Boucher declined to comment on the report, saying the watch list cited by the newspaper is a classified document, AFP reported.

Tommy Soetomo, an operational director for Wiranto's presidential campaign, told The Jakarta Post Wiranto had received many invitations from overseas, but could not fulfill them due to his tight schedule.

"We have also met over 100 foreign journalists grouped in the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club (JFCC) and none of them asked him about this issue," Tommy said.

In a discussion at the Jakarta Media Center (JMC) several weeks ago, Wiranto said he was invited by a U.S.-based non- governmental organization to visit the country to prove that he was not being barred from entering the U.S.

Wiranto said on Saturday, however, he had no plan to visit the U.S.

"I'm not interested in visiting the U.S. and Europe," he said.

Stanley Harsha, the spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, declined to comment on the matter.

"I do not have the authority to speak about the eligibility of individual prospective visa applicants," he told the Post on Saturday.

Meanwhile, foreign ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa said the government had not been informed by the U.S. government about the issue.

"The decision to bar an individual from entering a country, for whatever reasons, is done at the discretion of the country and we shall respect it," he commented.

TNI officers could not be reached for comment.

Wiranto was the TNI chief when violence ravaged East Timor following a popular ballot which resulted in independence for the former Indonesian province. Of 18 suspects brought to court in the crimes, the human rights court convicted two generals. Wiranto has never been implicated in the case.