Background: Violence in Indonesia
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GWEN IFILL: The violence in East Timor last summer riveted the world, ending only after international peace keeping forces stepped in. The toll was dramatic, hundreds killed by pro-government militias, refugees and the otherwise homeless numbering more than 100,000 and nearly all of East Timor’s building left burned or ransacked. United Nations investigators say the military was implicated in the violence. It erupted after residents of the former Portuguese colony voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesian occupation.
The Indonesian army — criticized by foreign governments for failing to stop the killing and arson — ultimately withdrew. United Nations troops from Australia, Asia, North America and Europe restored a semblance of stability to East Timor.
But violence continues elsewhere in this 17,000 island nation. In Aceh, one of Indonesia’s richest provinces pro-independence demonstrations have led to bloodshed. In Moluccas and in the resort destination, Lombok, near Bali, clashes between Muslims and Christians have taken the lives of 1,300 people in the past year. The violence is the most dramatic challenge to Indonesia’s first democratic government in 45 years. Indonesia — with a population of 210 million — is the fourth most populous country in the world and the world’s predominantly Muslim nation.
Its new president, Abdurrahman Wahid, a Muslim scholar, was elected by the national assembly in October. Wahid, among his first official acts, shuffled top military commanders, among them Army General Wiranto; he was replaced by a civilian then named security minister instead. But last month Indonesian human rights investigators identified Wiranto — who like many Indonesians uses only one name — as one of 33 people responsible for crimes against humanity in East Timor. Wiranto led the army, which is known as the TNI.
Wiranto asked to resign
DJOKO SUGIANTO, Indonesian Human Rights Investigator: (speaking through interpreter) General Wiranto — as commander of the TNI at that time — is a person who must be held responsible.
GWEN IFILL: Wahid on two weeks of state visits to Europe called for Wiranto’s resignation but in subsequent newspapers accounts from Rome over the weekend, Wahid clouded the resignation issue, saying he trusted and would forgive Wiranto. The general has denied involvement in the violence and has refused to step down and his attorney acknowledged a strange relationship with a president who is popularly known as Gus Dur.
ADNAN BUYUNG NASUTION, Wiranto’s Attorney: The way President Gus asked him to resign publicly, through a statement abroad, you know, that is also not a problem. Everything is very humiliating to General Wiranto.
GWEN IFILL: This political tug of war has sparked new worries abroad and at the United Nations. U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke issued this strong warning to the Indonesian military.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Indonesian generals should know that their own efforts to thwart internal accountability and openness and inquiry are only going to result in greater pressure. There is obviously is a profound struggle going on in Indonesia between the forces of democracy and the forces that look backward to protect their own skins and other parts of their anatomy. And it is a struggle of great historic consequence.
GWEN IFILL: President Wahid now credits the general with saving his life in an assassination attempt several years ago. But Wahid also said he hopes Wiranto resigns soon.