Jakarta – Former Indonesian president BJ Habibie expressed his ire at former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan on Monday with regard to the independence of East Timor (now Timor Leste) from Indonesia.
"This is the fault of Kofi Annan. I did not know. He was the one who announced the results (of the vote). He was the one who gave a press conference (on the vote's results). And so that was how things began to roll," he said at a nostalgic meeting with press figures in connection with the 10th anniversary of the The Habibie Center here.
He said the fact was that he had earlier stated that the Indonesian government would replace the military (TNI) personnel there by the ones who were neutral, namely those who once served the UN to guard the vote.
But before he and then armed forces commander general Wiranto stationed the replacements the UN secretary general had announced to the world that the vote was won by the pro-independence group although the vote had not yet finished, and this caused rioting.
In reply to a question from Saur Hutabarat, Habibie admitted he was well aware that his decision to allow the vote in East Timor carried the risk of losing East Timor which Indonesia had to bear.
That is why, he said, he as the President had prepared two speeches he would deliver if the people of East Timor wished or if they rejected to be part of Indonesia.
Habibie also admitted that if the people of East Timor chose not to become part of the Unitary State of Indonesia, Indonesia could not do anything but accept them as friends.
"Timor Leste has never been part of the Indonesian proclamation of independence as the proclamation only covers the Dutch Indies," he said in the company of his wife, Mrs Ainun Habibie.
Regarding the riots that occurred after the vote in East Timor and his ire at then UN secretary general Kofi Annan, Habibie said he would not recollect them. "What is the use of talking about it now. What is the benefit for us," he said.
While quoting a saying that the past is the farthest as no one could meet it again Habibie called for all the people to look forward.
The meeting was attended by the chairman of the Habibie Center, Muladi, who is a former minister of justice, Malik Fadjar, the former minister of education and press figures including Asro Kamal Rokan from Antara, Muh Assegaf, Ikhwanul Kiram, Atmakusumah, and others.
Comment by Damien Kingsbury
It is utterly extraordinary that Indonesia generally and Habibie in particular, in this instance, still seek to continue to rewrite history.
The announcement of the outcome of the 'Popular Consultation' on 4 September 1999, by Iam Martn in Dili and Kofi Anan in New York – after the counting of the vote was completed, not before – was intended to forestall the violence that was well and truly already underway.
Indeed, there had been growing violence and destruction since the beginning of the year, reaching a near-peak just before the ballot, and resuming immediately afterwards.
As I saw firsthand, the TNI and their militias did not wait for the announcement to kill people or burn, although from that moment on they did implement the carefully planned and orchestrated scorched-earth policy the plans for which had been leaked prior to the ballot. There were, of course, no 'neutral' TNI personnel in Timor-Leste at any time, and the intention to send new troops was not a part of any effort to control the murder and sestuction of which the TNI were transparently a part.
Habibie asked: "What is the use of talking about it now. What is the benefit for us", – the benefit for the people of Timor-Leste is that they might eventually achieve some small measure of justice for this cumulative gross crime against humanity; the benefit for the people of Indonesia is that they might take one more critical step on the path away from their long-standing culture of impunity.