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Sunday, 13 February, 2000, 09:14 GMT
Wiranto - survivor with iron will

Human rights protesters outside Indonesian Defence Ministry Human rights protesters outside Indonesian Defence Ministry

General Wiranto's iron will has seen him through the fall of his mentor, disgraced former president Suharto, and, for the moment, accusations of complicity in last year's violence in East Timor.

He has been fighting a rearguard battle since a human rights commission concluded in January that he was fully aware of human rights abuses being committed in the territory at the time of its painful separation from Indonesia.

Only last year, he was considered a prospect for the post of Indonesian vice-president.

But instead, opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri was chosen for the post and President Wahid moved the armed forces chief sideways into his present post as cabinet minister responsible for security.

Swift rise

Rarely, in the history of Indonesia's military has anyone risen through the ranks so fast and experienced a decline so swift.

Still only in his early 50s, General Wiranto was appointed to the most senior position in the country's armed forces in February 1998.

General Wiranto General Wiranto: allegations of human rights abuses
Two interlinked factors lay behind his rise to primary position at the military top table.

General Wiranto is from central Java, the traditional power base of the Indonesian political and military elite.

This area is also the home of ex-president Suharto - and it was as a firm Suharto loyalist that the youthful general began his ascent through the ranks.

He served as a presidential adjutant to Suharto in the early 80s - being promoted to a number of key posts including commander of the Jakarta region, head of the army reserve and for four years, aide de camp to the former president.

Rarely seen without a smile

Indeed, General Wiranto shares many of the most visible characteristics of the now disgraced Suharto: He is rarely seen without a smile.

His public statements often amount to little more than bland generalisations: He rarely answers a question directly.

In his role as armed forces chief, he avoided confrontation with opponents, preferring complex, behind-the-scenes power plays.

And though General Wiranto has been anxious to portray himself as a moderate, many feel he was directly implicated in the worst of the violence in East Timor.

From the beginning, General Wiranto made known his displeasure at the then President Habibie's willingness to allow a referendum in East Timor.

He did little to prevent the killings carried out there by militias trained and assisted by his troops.

But initially the general distanced himself from events in East Timor.

Defends army

It was former President Habibie, rather than General Wiranto, who was principally held accountable for the debacle and violence in the territory - until the findings of the human rights commission were published.

One evening at the height of the violence in East Timor the head of Indonesia's armed forces hosted a gathering of the country's military top brass in Jakarta.

After a speech firmly defending his army's actions in the former Portuguese territory, General Wiranto broke into a rendition of the song "Feelings".

He received loud applause - but still no-one really knows the true feelings and ambitions of this enigmatic military man.

Within the powerful armed forces - which have traditionally played a dual role as both a military and political force in Indonesian life - General Wiranto is seen to have carried out many reforms.

He has purged several powerful figures closely associated with the former Suharto regime and urged a more moderate policy towards students and street demonstrations.

His opponents, however, say his reforms are mere cosmetic exercises.

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See also:
31 Jan 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Wiranto faces sack over Timor
28 Jan 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Wiranto 'responsible' for Timor violence
18 Dec 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Indonesian general to help Timor probe

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