Timor-Leste President Jose Ramos-Horta has come under criticism for his decision to confer an award to a retired Indonesian army general, who allegedly violated human rights during the country's independence struggles.
President Ramos-Horta honored four people including 77-year-old ex-general Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono on Aug. 20 for their "significant contributions to national peace and stability."
General Andika Perkasa, Commander of the Indonesian National Army and Henropriyono's son-in-law, is another recipient of the award given as part of the celebrations to mark the 47th anniversary of the Armed Forces for the National Liberation of East Timor (FALINTIL).
"The award for Hendropriyono is a serious insult to the struggle of the people of Timor-Leste who suffered greatly and many died as a result of torture and killings," said Carlos da Silva Saky, co-founder of The National Resistance of East Timorese Students (RENETIL), a pro-independence East Timorese youth movement formed in Indonesia in 1988.
"I feel very disappointed and disgusted. How can a former general who was involved in the arrest, intimidation, and terror of Timorese students who carried out various political activities in Indonesia, as well as Indonesian pro-democracy activists, be rewarded? He doesn't deserve it, not at all," he said.
Hendropriyono, President Joko Widodo's aide and his former advisor, was involved in Operation Seroja, which led to the Indonesian military's 1975 invasion of Timor-Leste.
During 1991-1993, he served as military chief in Jakarta where he was reportedly involved in acts of violence against East Timorese students, including those belonging to RENETIL, who demonstrated over the massacre of young people and students at the Santa Cruz public cemetery in Dili on Nov. 12, 1991.
In 1999, as the Minister of Transmigration and Resettlement, Hendropriyono reportedly funded pro-Indonesian militias prior to the referendum.
Hendropriyono was also the head of the State Intelligence Agency during the 2004 murder Munir Said Thalib, a prominent human rights activist who helped to uncover evidence of military responsibility for human rights violations in Aceh, Papua and Timor Leste.
According to leaked US diplomatic cables in 2011, Hendropriyono was involved in the plot to assassinate Munir, although he has always denied the accusations and refused to be interrogated in the different trial procedures.
Ivo Mateus Goncalves da Cruz Fernandes, who researched at the Australian National University on the history of the student movement of Timor-Leste, said President Ramos-Horta, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996, was "stricken with amnesia very quickly" by awarding Hendropriyono the award.
"This president seems to have forgotten that he won the Nobel Peace Prize for fighting for human rights, freedom of speech and basic human rights, an award he won for the hundreds of thousands of human lives lost during the Timor-Leste conflict," he told UCA News.
He said, in the context of Timor-Leste's foreign policy, "President Ramos Horta's path is very pragmatic, maybe he doesn't understand Indonesian politics very well."
"Hendropriyono is one of the strongest people in the military, even this hegemony still continued during the time of President Widodo. But I think this tendency will continue to diminish, along with the emergence of new officers with more advanced insights, who are not dependent on Hendropriyono's influence," he said.
Timorese netizens took to social media to criticize the award. "There is no guarantee that a country that has been a victim of colonialism will respect human rights," Armindo Moniz Amaral posted on Facebook.
A former Portuguese colony, Catholic-majority Timor-Leste achieved independence in 2002 after a 24-year Indonesian occupation.
A report by the UN Commission for Recognition, Truth, and Reconciliation in Timor Leste (CAVR) estimates that some 102,800 people were killed during the conflict.
On numerous occasions, the governments of both countries have put aside the issue of human rights violations.
During President Ramos-Horta's visit to Jakarta last month, he did not discuss the issue, only focusing on cooperation in various sectors, such as the economy, development, investment, and education.