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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK
lndonesia's struggle to move on
Pro-Indonesian militia members in East Timor in 1999
Indonesia's shadowy links to the militias are on trial

Nearly three years after the referendum which set in train East Timor's independence, Indonesia finds itself back where it started - friendless over the issue and still reaping painful consequences, including international criticism of its human rights record.

Now, with East Timor about to draw a line under a dark and bloody past, Indonesians are asking if their country can do the same.


Many of us now see the East Timor issue as just one less headache to cope with

Kristanto Hartadi
newspaper editor

There has been little coverage of East Timor's presidential election in Jakarta's media, and the country is also likely to downplay the significance of independence for its former province.

Partly this is because ordinary Indonesians had little idea of the reality in East Timor.

They are still trying to come to terms with the brutality and injustice perpetrated while the Indonesian military was in control.

Now that the truth is clearer, many Indonesians would prefer to ignore what happened and move on.

Kristanto Hartadi, editor of the conservative Sinar Harapan daily newspaper, said: "Many of us now see the East Timor issue as just one less headache to cope with."

Endy Bayuni, deputy chief editor of the Jakarta Post, said East Timor was a mistake which most Indonesians would now rather forget.


So many Indonesian heroes died in East Timor

Ibrahim Ambong

"Indonesia simply failed to win the hearts and minds of the East Timorese," he said.

Among politicians and the military, for whom the loss of East Timor remains painful, it will not be so easy.

A powerful House of Representatives foreign relations commission is pressing President Megawati Sukarnoputri to stay away from East Timor's 20 May independence celebrations.

Ibrahim Ambong, head of the commission, told the Sydney Morning Herald: "So many Indonesian heroes died in East Timor while fighting for the unity of the people and the land, but the people decided to separate themselves from Indonesia anyway."

Army view

The army and many politicians blame then-President BJ Habibie for the loss of East Timor.

It was Mr Habibie's offer of a referendum which led to an overwhelming majority of East Timorese plumping for independence, much to the shock of Indonesia's government and military.

Former military commander General Wiranto
Critics say General Wiranto should be on trial
Analysts believe the military feels Mr Habibie caused them to lose a swath of their empire, and made it very difficult for them to claim only they could hold Indonesia's diverse regions together.

The ensuing backlash and bloody rampage by pro-Indonesian militias, when more than 1,000 East Timorese were murdered, shocked the world with its savagery and is still reverberating.

President Megawati's administration, which came to power with the backing of the military, remains under the international spotlight because of it.

A landmark human rights trial is underway in Jakarta, where 18 government officials and members of the security forces are standing trial for crimes against humanity committed in East Timor in 1999.

Among them are three generals, the former provincial governor and leaders of the militia gangs, widely believed to have been responsible for much of the violence.

But conspicuously absent from the list is General Wiranto, the armed forces chief at the time East Timor voted for independence.

That absence, and the military's attitude towards the trial, have dampened expectations that justice will be seen to be done.

Unless it is, East Timor could haunt Indonesia for a long time to come.


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04 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
26 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
14 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
25 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
21 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
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