Fury as Jakarta clears general of ordering killings

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The Independent Online

Indonesia has drawn widespread criticism from human rights organisations for its inability to address past abuses after a Jakarta court yesterday acquitted the head of the country's Kopassus special forces of ordering the killings of 23 anti-government protesters two decades ago.

Indonesia has drawn widespread criticism from human rights organisations for its inability to address past abuses after a Jakarta court yesterday acquitted the head of the country's Kopassus special forces of ordering the killings of 23 anti-government protesters two decades ago.

The decision to acquit Major-General Sriyanto Muntrasan was greeted by cheers from a courtroom packed with uniformed officers, but has provoked anger among critics who point to the decision by Indonesia's appeal court last week to overturn convictions for four high-ranking soldiers found guilty of crimes against humanity after the East Timor massacres in 1999.

The US State Department said last week Indonesia's prosecutions process "was seriously flawed and lacked credibility". Maj-Gen Muntrasan's acquittal is unlikely to change that assessment. Human rights activists were strongly critical of the not-guilty verdict against the general who in 1994, ordered his troops to fire on a crowd of 3,000 protesters demanding the release of recently arrested Muslim activists. The official death toll was 23, but witnesses claim many more were killed.

"This was a mock trial," said a spokesman for the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation. "It is impossible to convict high-ranking military officers."

Maj-Gen Muntrasan is one of 14 officers on trial over what has become known as the Tanjung Priok incident, after the district of Jakarta in which the massacre took place.

Herman Heller Hutapea, the trial's chief judge, said the general had tried to prevent the clash "by shouting 'stop' and 'stop shooting'." He said: "There was no proof of a systematic attack. The clash took place spontaneously between the people and [army] personnel."

Coming so soon after the overuling of guilty verdicts for Indonesian officers involved in the East Timor massacres, the judgment has led some to ask whether Indonesian courts are unwilling to act against the country's military, still its most prestigious institution.

The four Indonesian military officers cleared last week are Major-General Adam Damiri, who had been found guilty of "gross human rights violations" and sentenced to three years' imprisonment, the former military chief Colonel Nur Muis, former police commissioner Hulman Gultom and Lieutenant Colonel Soejarwo.

* Australia may give neighbouring East Timor a greater share of royalties from Timor Sea oil and gas fields if it agrees to keep existing maritime boundaries. Alexander Downer, the Australian Foreign Minister, and Jose Ramos-Horta, his East Timorese counterpart, said in Canberra yesterday they may reach an agreement on boundaries and revenue-sharing from the fields by Christmas.

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