Tue, 08 Feb 2000

President likely to pardon Wiranto if found guilty

BRUSSELS (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid indicated that if former Armed Forces Chief Gen. Wiranto is found guilty of human rights violations in East Timor, he would legally pardon him and most likely dismiss him from his official cabinet post.

"If found guilty in a court, the punishment will be the opportunity for him to resign from his post," Abdurrahman said during a meeting with the Indonesian community.

The president conceded that many, particularly those outside Indonesia, would not be satisfied, as they wanted Wiranto punished.

"Talking about it (punishment) is easy, but in reality it's not," he said, adding that such an administrative punishment was already a heavy penalty in Indonesia.

Meanwhile in an interview in Portugal's Diario de Noticias, Abdurrahman was quoted on Monday as saying that "however guilty he is, however wrong he has been, (Wiranto) was the supreme commander and we will respect him."

"He will be given an amnesty, pardoned, after being judged guilty," he told the newspaper during a recent visit to Rome.

But he stressed that there would be no such amnesty for other military chiefs, soldiers and militiamen involved in the campaign of bloodshed and destruction that followed the Aug. 30 ballot in the former Portuguese colony.

A report issued by a government-sanctioned inquiry on East Timor accused Wiranto and other military officers and former officials of being responsible for the wave of violence which swept East Timor. The report recommended the Attorney General conduct an investigation against them.

Following the release of the report, Abdurrahman, who is on a 16-day overseas tour, said he would ask Wiranto to resign.

Abdurrahman has maintained that any cabinet minister on trial should be suspended from their position.

Wiranto himself has kept quiet saying only that he would wait for Abdurrahman's return on Sunday.

Abdurrahman, during his meeting with the Indonesia community in Brussels, again stressed that his personal relationship with Wiranto is excellent.

He argued that his desire to see Wiranto, by his own free will, exit the cabinet, was merely to allow him to completely focus on his defense.


Separately Indonesian businessmen accompanying the president on his visit underlined the importance for the President to remain consistent in his decision to suspend Wiranto as it would affect the investment climate in Indonesia.

Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chairman Aburizal Bakrie said here on Monday that such a decision would impress the market and investors as it would demonstrate the government's strength.

"Whatever the President's decision is, the most important thing is that there is consistency in his policy making process," Aburizal said before accompanying the President to his meeting with Belgian businessmen at the Conrad Hotel.

Sofyan Wanandi, chairman of National Business Development Council, expressed hope that Abdurrahman would be able to resolve this sensitive issue in a way which would satisfy all sides.

Sofyan supported Abdurrahman's rejection of bringing accused senior military officers before an international tribunal, contending that such an event would only serve to tarnish the country's image.

"We hope the President's decision will be accepted by all parties," he said.

Aburizal pointed out that during the tour which includes six European countries, the business community in Europe has been impressed with Abdurrahman's performance and strong commitment to the principles of a free market, democracy and human rights protections.

Aburizal, however, said businessmen in Switzerland, Britain, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy and Belgium were awaiting the government's concrete actions.

He cited security restoration and public order, along with consistency in implementing programs and policies as the most crucial conditions for the return of investors.

"They will wait to see whether or not the government is able to implement its own promises in the next few weeks. This is a test case," said Aburizal.

Indonesian Textile Association Secretary General Benny Sutrisno hoped the President would be able to convince European leaders to increase textile quotas for Indonesia by reducing trade barriers and antidumping regulations.

He said the country's textile exports to Europe have drastically dropped from about US$2 billion dollars in 1998 to $1.2 billion in 1999.

"We hope that our exports will exceed $2 billion this year. Such a development would mean we could employ at least 600,000 workers at home," said Benny.

Earlier Sunday during a meeting with Indonesian businessmen in Rome, he disclosed that his counterparts in Europe were particularly interested in Wiranto and the Indonesian Banking Restructuring Agency (IBRA).

"They only asked about IBRA and nothing else," he remarked.

During his two-day visit in Brussels, the President met with Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, European Commission President Romano Prodi and European Union Secretary General Javier Solana.

He flew to India on Monday evening and is expected to spend the night there before heading off to South Korea and Thailand. (prb)