Fri, 21 Mar 2003

Habibie blames UN for Timor melee

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Former president B.J. Habibie blamed the United Nations for the human rights abuses during the 1999 post-ballot riots in East Timor because, he said, the international body did not notify him about the announcement of the ballot's result ahead of the schedule.

He said his government had no adequate time to make preparations to anticipate any violence when the UN announced the ballot's result in which the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence. The counting ended and the results were announced on Sept. 4, 1999 instead of Sept. 7, which he said he was unprepared for.

"We had very little time to anticipate a reaction from the losing side," he said.

Habibie also defended his decision to go ahead with the vote.

"We discussed the matter, and the decision was made to respect the universal values of human rights. Therefore, we gave the East Timorese people the opportunity to decide their own fate," he said.

Habibie gave the testimony to the human rights tribunal during the trial of former chief of the then East Timor Military Command Brig. Gen. Tono Suratman.

Earlier, he testified via teleconference for House Speaker Akbar Tandjung who was tried for his involvement in a Rp 40 billion corruption case. Akbar, who was sentenced to three years imprisonment, is still free pending appeal to the Supreme Court.

Former president Abdurrahman Wahid earlier testified in court for a civilian dispute involving his National Awakening Party (PKB). But, former president Soeharto, a suspect of a graft case, continues to refuse to go to trial for his own graft case, citing poor health.

Wearing a long-sleeved brown batik shirt and black trousers, Habibie looked confident and relaxed when answering judges' questions.

He said that the post-ballot atrocity was "the work" of criminals, not the result of any orders from his administration.

"If there was any link to Jakarta, there would have been a written or unwritten order to carry this out. But in fact, the opposite occurred. We prepared systematic measures to prevent (violence).

"What happened there was the result of criminal actions and whomever committed them should be put on trial," said Habibie, who occasionally wiped the sweat off his brow in the packed- courtroom.

Tono earlier said that he was merely carrying out orders from his superiors in Jakarta.

Habibie, under heavy international pressure at the time, decided to go ahead with a vote in East Timor to reject or accept wide-ranging autonomy from Jakarta on August 30, 1999. East Timor, which had been occupied by Indonesia since 1975, gained full independence in May last year, after a period of transitional administration by the UN.

He denied that the decision was a result of international pressure although he admitted that his decision to authorize the referendum came after he received calls from British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

The judges, who were apparently interested in the background that led to Habibie's decision for the referendum, commented that he made the decision hastily especially since his own Cabinet initially opposed the vote.

"I always work too fast, perhaps, but I am rational," he said with a smile.

"My government could not afford uncertainty because Indonesia was making efforts to reform," Habibie added.

The human rights trials for East Timor atrocities have come under fire for acquitting 11 of the 16 government and military officials so far tried for crimes against humanity. However, the five that were not acquitted got less than the minimum sentences required by law, and all remain free pending appeal.

The trials of two military generals are still under way.

The United Nations estimates that 1,000 people were killed in election-related violence in 1999.