- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

JAKARTA, Indonesia The Indonesian military is exerting subtle but increasing influence over the civilian administration of President Megawati Sukarnoputri, human rights activists here say.
"It's as if the military is still in power, or trying to attain power again," said Albert Hasibuan of the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights.
The military says it has no interest in politics, but Mr. Hasibuan and other observers express concern about several recent developments, including the presence of several retired military men in Mrs. Megawati's Cabinet and the refusal of senior officers to testify before the rights panel investigating the deaths of 30 civilians.
These concerns arise as some U.S. officials express hopes of forging closer ties with the Indonesian military to help fight the global war on terrorism, despite congressional restrictions on such ties, which were put in place during the Indonesian-backed violence in East Timor three years ago.
H.S. Dillon, who investigated the East Timor atrocities for the human rights panel, said loyalists of former armed forces commander Gen. Wiranto are "testing the waters" to see how far they can push the civilian government.
Gen. Wiranto was fired as armed forces commander by then-President Abdurrahman Wahid when Mr. Dillon and his team recommended that Jakarta military officers be held responsible for the violence in East Timor.
"He was out of commission, out of action, and now he is rallying his troops," said Mr. Dillon, who sees Gen. Wiranto's influence behind the appointment of Maj. Gen. Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin as the new armed forces spokesman, and military officers' rejection of summonses to appear before the rights panel.
Gen. Sjamsoeddin, Gen. Wiranto and 16 other military and police officers refused to be questioned because, they said, the committee was without legal foundation.
"The Indonesian armed forces respect the supremacy of law," said a lieutenant colonel, who declined to be named. He denied that Gen. Wiranto had backed Gen. Sjamsoeddin's appointment. "There is nobody behind it," he said.
Mr. Hasibuan's report, issued last week, recommended that 50 high- and middle-ranking military and police officers be charged with crimes against humanity for the killing of 30 civilians, most of them students, in 1998. Gen. Sjamsoeddin was the Jakarta military commander at the time.
According to Australian author James Dunn, Gen. Sjamsoeddin was among the senior Indonesian officers who backed the anti-independence militias that conducted a campaign of intimidation in advance of the 1999 referendum in East Timor.
However, Gen. Sjamsoeddin is not among the 18 suspects on trial or awaiting trial at a special court hearing charges of human rights abuses in East Timor.
Tamrin Amal Tomagola, a prominent sociologist, said Gen. Sjamsoeddin's appointment as the military spokesman is a further sign that the military has strengthened its influence in government since Mrs. Megawati replaced Mr. Wahid in a parliamentary vote in July.
"Quite a number of military men are in her Cabinet, and in very strategic positions," he said, citing the home-affairs minister and the civilian attorney general as two ministers who purportedly have Gen. Wiranto's backing.
Among the retired military men in the Megawati Cabinet are Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the top security minister, and A.M. Hendropriyono, who heads the national intelligence agency.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported recently that secret Australian communications intercepts show that Mr. Hendropriyono helped to arrange the forced deportation of well over 200,000 East Timorese after the August 1999 vote. He was never charged in the case.


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