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Wahid 'bowed to international pressure on Wiranto'

Sydney Morning Herald - February 16, 2000

Jakarta – Indonesia's President Abdurrahman Wahid decided to suspend General Wiranto over his involvement in human rights abuses in East Timor after significant international pressure, a leading legislator, Mr Amien Rais, said yesterday.

Mr Wahid, who reversed an announcement made six hours earlier that his Co-ordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs could stay in his job, had explained the intense pressure in a phone call, Mr Rais said.

Mr Rais, chairman of Indonesia's highest legislative body, the People's Consultative Assembly, applauded Mr Wahid's change of mind, and said responsibility for the atrocities in East Timor should rest with General Wiranto.

But the Speaker of Parliament, Mr Akbar Tanjung, who is also chairman of the second largest party, Golkar, said General Wiranto could join his political team anytime, even if the Attorney-General, Mr Marzuki Darusman, found he had a case to answer over East Timor.

"If he resigns from the military and becomes a civilian we would welcome him to join Golkar," Mr Akbar said. When asked if that would apply even if there were a cloud over General Wiranto's name, Mr Akbar replied: "It's OK, never mind."

Mr Rais said Mr Wahid's manner of suspending General Wiranto was "a bit reckless" but that most people supported him. "Eight hours before he made the decision, the final decision, President Gus Dur [Mr Wahid's popular name] was talking to me over the phone saying that he was under international pressure," Mr Rais said. When asked whether he thought the pressure had come from other countries, international institutions or foreign investors, Mr Rais said: "All of them".

General Wiranto has been suspended after being named, with five other police and military officers, by an independent Indonesian investigation into violence in East Timor. But Mr Rais did not think the other officers mentioned in the report should also be suspended. "Wiranto was the man in charge," Mr Rais said.

He said the two-week long-distance saga over whether General Wiranto would resign had taken a toll on Mr Wahid's credibility, but Mr Rais said the Central Axis grouping of Muslim parties he represents would not make a hasty decision.

"We can still accept Mr Gus Dur as our president, but we will watch him very closely. "If he deviates a little bit we will ... flip his ear, and if he deviates too much we will spank him politically, and if he violates the Constitution we will stop him. It remains to be seen whether he will really do stupid things or not. After Wiranto's resignation, if the steps taken by Gus Dur are accountable, are reasonable, in parallel with the expectation of the people in this reform era, I think he will continue holding his job."