Sun, 13 Feb 2000

Wiranto's Cabinet fate to be decided on Monday

BANGKOK (JP): The showdown between President Abdurrahman Wahid and Gen. Wiranto is set to climax on Monday with Cabinet changes likely to occur whether or not coordinating minister for political affairs and security resigns.

Speaking to journalists minutes before he left for the airport here to return to Jakarta, Abdurrahman revealed that he and Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri would meet the former Military chief on Monday.

"You can expect that the day after tomorrow, there will be an announcement of the decision on Gen. Wiranto," he said.

"What kind of decision depends on Gen. Wiranto and myself," Abdurrahman added.

However, he underlined that his comments should not be taken negatively by Wiranto, whom he considered as a trusted friend.

"Please don't print that I will fire him because I respect him very much and I will give him a respectful place, but not in the Cabinet."

Abdurrahman left Bangkok on Saturday night, ending a two-week foreign tour that has been dominated by long distance exchanges on the Wiranto issue.

The general, along with other senior officers and officials, was alleged by a government inquiry to have been responsible for the violence that swept East Timor before and after the Aug. 30 ballot.

In the aftermath of the report, the President said he would like Wiranto to resign.

Abdurrahman, who was in Bangkok to attend to attend the 10th United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, said on Saturday that his call for Wiranto's resignation "was made because I sense that the international community, as well as their business investments, will depend on the resignation of Wiranto".

"I hope that he will think about this in the appropriate way. Will see what will happen on Monday."

But the President also signaled that whatever the outcome of Monday's meeting, he would likely change the shape of the Cabinet.

"It is up to him, whether he resigns or not, but if he does not resign then I will change the Cabinet anyway, without him," Abdurrahman said.

When asked if there was any reason for Abdurrahman to believe that the four-star general would resign, Abdurrahman replied, "because of his sense of patriotism and loyalty to the country's interests".

In Jakarta, a legal defense team representing the senior officers in the case brushed aside suggestions that Wiranto would resign.

"Pak Wiranto will not step down unless he is fired (by the President) in Monday's meeting," lawyer Ruhut Sitompul told The Jakarta Post.

He said there was no reason for Wiranto to be dismissed or even resign as the legal process against him had not yet begun.

"If President Abdurrahman fires Wiranto, such an action would be deeply regrettable, as the President has violated the presumption of innocence principle," Ruhut remarked.

But the winds have been quickly moving against Wiranto, with even military top brass suggesting that he heeds the President's calls.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Tyasno Sudarto publicly urged his senior on Friday to resign from the Cabinet in accordance with Abdurrahman's wishes.

A resignation would prove a severe blow for Wiranto's prestige, as Abdurrahman has already signed a decree retiring him from active military service effective from March 31. (prb/01/emf)