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Missing persons' reports flood rights office

Jakarta Post - February 18, 2000 (abridged)

Bandung – The newly created Office of the State Minister of Human Rights Affairs has received some 3,000 reports of missing persons, most of them alleged abductions in Aceh, East Timor and Jakarta.

The office's third deputy, Asmar Oemar Saleh, said on Thursday the missing persons' reports were part of a total of 4,000 submitted to the office in the past three and a half months.

Speaking at a human rights seminar at Padjadjaran University, Asmar said there were restrictions on how his office could pursue investigation of the reports.

"Unfortunately, we haven't been able to cope with the reports as the government has not yet come up with a policy to handle cases of missing persons," Asmar said. "Moreover, most of the cases were quite vague and did not have clear leads." He said many of the disappearances occurred a long time ago.

"We haven't got any clear answers from both the governments of Soeharto and Habibie about these cases, which occurred during their tenure." To address the institutional problems and lack of legal instruments to tackle the reports, Asmar said the ministry would hold a symposium next month to gather opinions on policies to handle the missing persons' cases.

In a related development, the coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), Munir, supported previous claims that the disappearance of Lt. Col. Sudjono, a suspect in a mass shooting in Aceh, occurred to "eliminate the link to his commanding officers". "Sudjono was supposed to be protected as a key suspect and witness by the Indonesian Military (TNI) commander and the attorney general. But now they don't know his whereabouts. It's utterly puzzling.

"The authorities must take responsibility and take concrete steps. Don't just say that he deserted." He added that Kontras was also ready to provide legal counsel to Sudjono's family because he presumably "went missing against his will".

Munir said several Kontras activists were searching for Sudjono in cities such as Banda Aceh, Medan and ones in West Java, but to no avail. Munir contended that Sudjono should be termed a "key witness" rather than a "suspect" because his actions resulted from orders from his commanders.

Sudjono was allegedly involved in the shooting death of religious teacher Tengku Bantaqiah, his wife, his students and dozens of farmers last year. A government-sanctioned inquiry in December concluded they were killed by soldiers.

Munir conceded that in processing and uncovering human rights cases, priority was given to cases with higher political or public visibility. "East Timor has the top priority because it concerns the fate of high-ranking officers threatened with a military tribunal. While Aceh does not have such urgency."