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Wiranto: 'I tried to build a house of peace'

Time Magazine - February 23, 2000

General Wiranto has been a pivotal player in modern Indonesia. Appointed head of the armed forces by Suharto in 1998, he helped ease the dictator out of power, then saw the military through a series of crises: pro-democracy demonstrations in Jakarta, ethnic and religious violence in the provinces, the referendum on independence in East Timor. Last week Wiranto, 52, was suspended from his post as Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs, after being implicated in a government-sanctioned report on human rights violations in East Timor. Four days later he spoke with Time reporter Jason Tedjasukmana at his private residence in south Jakarta.

Time: You have been accused of genocide by some members of the international community. What is your response?

Wiranto: There was no genocide. It cannot be compared to Somalia or Rwanda, where hundreds of thousands died. According to our count, during the East Timor incident, more or less 92 people died in all of East Timor.

According to the KPP HAM [Commission Investigating Human Rights Violations in East Timor] report, about 250. We have to admit that the conflict between both sides was going on for more than 20 years. Even before that there was fighting between ethnic and tribal groups.

Time: What I saw in East Timor was complete devastation. How could destruction of that scale take place without some kind of planning or organization?

Wiranto: Not everything was destroyed. I think you just saw a few districts. Of all 12 districts only four suffered heavy damage. The other eight were intact. For example, Baucau is still intact. Why does the damage appear to be that extensive? Because, according to accounts from local eyewitnesses and several pastors, and even a pastor that was on Portuguese radio, after newcomers and those who were pro-integration heard of their loss, they felt life in East Timor was over and that it would be better to move somewhere else. They began to destroy and burn buildings and stores that they had built up little by little over tens of years. They did not want to have their houses abandoned and taken over by those they considered the enemy. After they finished burning their own houses then they helped their neighbors burn their houses. That's why it looks so extensive but not because it was planned by TNI [the military]. It was spontaneous by the homeowners themselves. Just ask the refugees in West Timor. They will tell you the same thing. I would like the international inquiry to directly ask us – the pro-integration side and government officials who were there then – to obtain information that is balanced and comes from another side. If the information only comes from one side, of course it is biased.

Time: In light of the accusations you face, are you now afraid to leave the country for fear of suffering the same fate as Pinochet?

Wiranto: No. I am not Pinochet. Things were very emotional in East Timor. I went there and told my subordinates in the field to shoot on sight and to take strong measures. But when you are facing crowds that large and emotional that kept getting bigger, soldiers and police anywhere in the world would have a problem. What happened was not intentional.

Time: What is it like being suspended after having held some of the most powerful positions in the country?

Wiranto: I don't feel any loss or pressure. All of my jobs have been in service of the country. I used whatever the position was to carry out my activities to support, help and contribute to the development of the country. My orientation was toward service, not the post.

Time: How were you informed of the President's decision?

Wiranto: I was told by the staff of the President.

Time: Were you shocked by the decision?

Wiranto: No. In 30 years I have faced worse problems. My reaction was balanced. One has to think clearly, objectively and see everything with a wider perspective and not become emotional.

Time: Do you now have any political ambitions?

Wiranto: I haven't thought about that yet. My status is still as a minister but non-active. I'm still waiting to see how the whole process is carried out.

Time: How much do you feel that you influenced historical change in Indonesia since becoming head of the armed forces?

Wiranto: I experienced three different governments, and during those periods I went along with the process of reform. It was a global development that Indonesia had to follow. Whether it was human rights or the environment, Indonesia, whether it wanted to or not, had to go through the reform process if it did not want to be left behind. There was no pressure or pushing. Reform was a necessity for Indonesia. I felt the process had to happen gradually and constitutionally. I even made a program about reform and gave it to the President and the DPR [lower house of Parliament] while I was still head of TNI. So it is not true that the TNI obstructed reform. Because we supported reform, we carried out internal reform so we could walk in step with national reform. My suggestion to the government was that the agenda had to be clear and step by step. What was important was that it had to be controlled well and be carried out structurally as well as culturally.

Time: You once swore to protect Suharto and his family. Can you still do that?

Wiranto: I would protect any president. By doing so I protect the dignity of the nation. I wouldn't protest if he is taken to court as long as it is done legally and not illegally. But I don't want to see hundreds or thousands of people going to his home and then dragging him out on the street. That would be vulgar. I haven't done anything during the investigation of Suharto and am not interfering because I respect the legal process.

Time: To the outside world, the decision to confer "non-active" status appears to be based on a belief that the KPP HAM findings are correct in implicating you in the post-referendum violence in East Timor. What is your reaction to this perception of guilt?

Wiranto: First of all, I think it is important to clarify a few things about the accusations that KPP HAM has made. Number one, people need to understand the truth about KPP HAM. They were only responsible for collecting information and providing a report on what they think happened in East Timor. It does not have the legal authority of an official police report. In this sense, it cannot be used to make a formal legal decision.

Number two, the Attorney General still needs to study the findings of the report. This will be done through a special team that will be legally formed who will then decide who was involved and should be held accountable. Up to this point, nobody has been officially implicated, including myself. Number three, as is stated in the executive summary of KOMNAS HAM [National Commission on Human Rights] to the Attorney General, I most definitely have not been involved in human-rights violations. I am considered responsible for what happened in my capacity as commander of the armed forces at the time. Please understand, though, there is a big difference between these two. With these things in mind, I see the decision to make me "non-active" as an administrative decision. It has been done to make it easier for me to provide additional information or explanations to the special team formed by the Attorney General. Finally, about people's assumptions that I am guilty, let me ask you, who is it that says I am guilty? Many people have actually told me they know I am not guilty! Anyhow, it is best that we all wait and trust in the rule of law and good governance.

Time: Do you intend to resign before the Attorney General's Office finishes its follow-up investigation?

Wiranto: How can I make a decision concerning a process that is still uncertain? Honestly, I am not concerned about the job or the so-called power that is associated with it. Even before I had a single star on my shoulder, I knew if I ever did get one, it would not be forever. We are, all of us, just human. The real issue has to do with honor and truth. I have tried to serve my country for 35 years. As a soldier, I don't expect a thank-you card, but honesty and fairness.

Time: What will be your defense?

Wiranto: If we look at the issue of East Timor from the perspective of responsibility, the issue becomes much clearer. In my position as the commander of armed forces, I was responsible for policy formation. I was not responsible for the deployment of troops or for directing them in the field, which are operational or tactical responsibilities. In the area for which I was responsible I did my best to build a policy that was directed at ending armed conflict, the terrorizing of innocents and the violating of human rights. The peace agreement forged in Dili on April 21, 1999, is just one of many efforts made to bring peace to the two parties who had been fighting for over 25 years. This alone demanded incredible patience and hard work.

Furthermore, I stated and insisted on the neutrality of the TNI. Imagine U.S soldiers during the closing days in Vietnam being told to be neutral at the drop of a hat and to shake the hands of the Viet Cong. For those of us who had fought the Fretilin for over 20 years this demanded the utmost in military discipline. It came from a heart that sincerely desired peace. To cement the gains made through the peace agreement, I then oversaw the signing of a cease-fire agreement in Jakarta on June 18, 1999. Without the weapons to make war, the impetus to attack and murder would begin to recede. Over and over again, I tried to convince both parties to turn their physical confrontation into a political struggle – to beat their swords in plowshares. To this effect I also formed the Commission on Peace and Stability, which was manned by both pro-and anti-integration personnel as well as members of KOMNAS HAM and the government. This commission was formed to help ensure that the signed agreements were not broken. Besides this, I was pleased that foreign police advisers and military liaison officers were sent to help us Indonesians ensure security during the balloting. Along with these foreigners, there were also droves of reporters and observers – 4,000 foreigners in all – and not a single fatality over a period of three months. Fortunately, the balloting was carried out peacefully. After the results were announced and the rioting began I announced a military emergency to bring the situation under control.

I admit that during those few days human-rights violations did take place and that members of TNI and the police were involved. The military and police have already arrested and processed a number of our members who were found guilty of such crimes.

So, as the one responsible for policy this is what I did to try and bring peace to East Timor. I think more than anyone else, besides of course the victims, I was distraught over what happened. I had tried to build a house of peace and saw it go up in flames and myself being blamed for it. But think about: why in the world would I sweat and labor with my own hands to build such a house only to burn it down? You tell me.

Time: Do you feel that the legal process is being followed?

Wiranto: I have already explained that legally I have not been tried for anything. The decision on whether or not I should be tried has not even been made. On whether there was another reason for dismissing me, for example a political one, I do not want to make any sort of assumptions at this time. At this time Indonesia is undergoing major changes, or reformations, in the areas of politics and law. If there has been a manipulation of the law for political purposes, then what has happened to me has been a setback rather than a move forward as so many imagine it has been. Also, if there has been a manipulation of the law for political purposes, it will be criticized and rejected by the people.

Time: What was the reason for the switch from keeping you in the Cabinet to removing you at the last minute?

Wiranto: I think that someone other than me would better answer this question.

Time: Do you feel that your career has been tainted by the decision taken by the President?

Wiranto: My military carrier will be determined by what I did as a professional soldier. As long as I carried out my duty according to the soldiers' pledge, doing what was best for the people and the nation, I am sure that my honor as a soldier will be safely guarded.

Time: Do you feel that you are being judged prematurely?

Wiranto: If I feel judged it means that I feel guilty. There is a certain principle in law, as you say, "innocent until proven guilty." This means until a court of law finds me guilty I am innocent before the law and therefore should not be spoken of as guilty. Therefore, it is best that I think positively about what has happened and believe that truth will triumph. I hope that this problem can be quickly settled without outside intervention or vested interests that may feel injustice can lead to justice.