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Indonesian Reluctance Over War Crimes Inquiry

The news that Indonesia is reluctant to become involved in the UN investigation of atrocities committed in East Timor should come as no surprise. The politicians have become pawns of the military. John Howard reports.

Indonesia's formal withdrawal of troops from East Timor would have been seen as a debacle by many other governments; in Indonesia it simply underscores the military's dominace over civilian politicians.

The military, under General Wiranto, has tried to turn international condemnation of their role in East Timor into a groundswell of anti-foreigner nationalism, successfully diverting blame to others.

Beyond that, the message is that the military remains determined to do things its way and that civilian politicians who stand in its way - or who forget to consult the generals over key policy changes - had best beware.

The military is clearly saying;- " if you politicians can't protect us then watch out."

The citizens of Aceh and Irian Jaya, now agitating for referendums, should also beware. If nothing else, they now know that the price of their activism will be high.

Rumours are now rife that members of Indonesia's military intellignece will remain undercover in East Timor, perhaps wreaking further havoc which can then be blamed on the international force rather than Jakarta. This would provide further self-serving "proof" that even foreigners cannot fix the East Timorese "civil" war.

The larger point is the apparent inability of the armed forces to admit their failures. There may have been a resurgence in student protests against military dominance in politics, but the military is getting an easy ride from civilian politicians.

No matter what it did in East Timor, the military remains the debutante at the ball of presidential aspirations.

The ruling Glokar party wants to nominate General Wiranto for vice-president or president, and opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri is edging closer to Wiranto and his block of votes in the presidential electoral college.

The students, while risking their lives over a security clampdown in Indonesia, are not protesting over East Timor. "One problem is that civilians themselves are virtually inviting the military in," says political lecturer Arbi Sanit.

As the politicians fiddle, key issues of military rule beyond East Timor are not being addressed. The military is proceeding with its plans to expand the number of military commands across the outer provinces in moves largely unnoticed in Jakarta.

General Wiranto recently reminded the nation that Indonesia lost 3,700 troops during the first five years of its occupation of East Timor. But he made no mention of the more than 100,000 East Timorese estimated to have lost their lives during and after Indonesia's 1975 invasion.

Indonesia's political and military problems are far from over, in fact, they are growing. Both New Zealand and Australian politicians will have to pay much more attention in the future to regional stability and, for the first time, adopt a clear and concise foreign policy.

ENDS

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