Questioning of soldiers over E. Timor opposed
JAKARTA (JP): The Army has vowed not to let the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) question its soldiers over human rights abuses in the former Indonesian province last year.
Deputy Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Kiki Syahnakrie told reporters during a break of the fast gathering at Army Headquarters here that the questioning lacked a legal basis as the government had never consulted the House of Representatives about its agreement with UNTAET on the joint investigation into the East Timor atrocities.
"We will never hand over our soldiers for questioning conducted in the interests of UNTAET," said Kiki, the military commander in charge of restoring order in East Timor when the government imposed a state of emergency on the territory last year.
Based on a memorandum of understanding it signed with Minister of Foreign Affairs Alwi Shihab in February this year, UNTAET began an inquiry on Thursday into 19 military and police officers, three civilian staff members and a former official as witnesses in connection with the violence that followed an overwhelming vote for independence in East Timor in August 1999.
The planned questioning failed to materialize because none of the witnesses appeared at the Attorney General's office, the venue for the questioning.
Earlier on Friday, House Speaker Akbar Tandjung urged the government to revoke the joint agreement, saying it would raise worries at home.
"UNTAET's planned investigation must be canceled because Indonesia has no treaty on such an investigation with East Timor," he told The Jakarta Post.
He said the memorandum of understanding (MOU) was not binding on the grounds that it had never been brought before the House.
Separately, Armin Aryoso, chairman of House Commission II on home and legal affairs, concurred and said the House would immediately meet with Attorney General Marzuki Darusman to discuss the possibility of halting the questioning.
"Indonesia has no objection to UNTAET's investigation into the 1999 bloodshed in several districts in East Timor but it (UNTAET) has no authority to question Indonesian citizens because the territory has been separated from Indonesia and it cannot interfere in our internal affairs," Armin said.
Yasril Ananta Burhanuddin, chairman of Commission I for defense and security affairs, said the MOU was strange and uncommon because its substance was as detailed as that of a treaty.
"An MOU is generally not binding," he said.
The team of lawyers for the military and police officers who have been declared suspects in the East Timor case also opposed UNTAET's investigation, saying the MOU was not binding.
"Our clients have the right to reject the questioning because the MOU, which is lower status than an agreement or a treaty, is not binding," Adnan Buyung Nasution, coordinator of the lawyers' team, told a press conference on Friday.
In a bid to clear up the controversy, Marzuki asserted that the questioning would be conducted by an Indonesian team of investigators, with the UN investigators only providing materials and accompanying their Indonesian counterparts.
"The witnesses' testimonies will then be used by the UN team to complete their investigation of the violence in East Timor," Marzuki told journalists at his office.
"There has been no summons issued by UNTAET nor is there a plan to hand over the witnesses to UNTAET," he added.
Marzuki further said he would explain the matter to the Coordinating Minister for Political, Social and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the witnesses' superior officers.
Of the 22 officers and former staff members, nine are from the Army and ten from the National Police. The nine Army officers include Lt. Col. Asep Kuswani, former chief of the then Liquica military subdistrict, Lt. Col. Bambang Sungeste, former chief of the then Oecussi military subdistrict and Lt. Col. Komiso Mira, a former member of the then Oecussi military subdistrict's staff.
The 10 police officers include Brig. Gen. Timbul Silaen, former chief of the then East Timor provincial police, Lt. Col. Adios Salova, former chief of the then Liquica police precinct and Lt. Col. Gultom, former chief of the Dili police precinct while the three former civilian officials are Filomeno Misquita Da Costa, the former Oecussi regent, Basilio de Araujo, a former official in the governor's office, and Francisco Noronha, a former member of the medical staff in a clinic in Lolotoe subdistrict. (rms/jun/bby)