Indonesian army chief denies blame in E. Timor rampage

Local police, U.N. at fault in 100 deaths, he testifies


JAKARTA, Indonesia - The commander of the Indonesian army when militias backed by the military rampaged through East Timor nearly three years ago testified yesterday that he was not responsible for what he called the "incident."

Gen. Wiranto, the former commander, blamed the United Nations and the East Timorese police for the deaths of more than 100 people in violence that followed a referendum in which the people of East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence. An independent commission in Indonesia and a U.N. panel concluded two years ago that the military, which opposed independence, had supported the militias.

Wiranto was appearing as a witness, not a defendant, at a trial on human rights abuses by the military in the former Portuguese colony, which Indonesia annexed in 1976.

After two years of hesitation over whether to hold a trial, the government opened one last month. Senior military officers, including Wiranto, who were named by the commission two years ago, have not been charged.

Instead, five midlevel military officers, as well as police officers and civilian leaders, are defendants.

The trial and Wiranto's appearance have a direct bearing on Indonesia's relations with the United States.

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, the Bush administration would like to renew ties with the Indonesian military, which has historically played a vital role in keeping the country together. The administration views Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country, as an incubator of Islamic extremism and has urged the government, unsuccessfully, to take a firmer stand against it.

Wiranto said the violence erupted in East Timor after the referendum in August 1999 because people were dissatisfied with the way the United Nations had conducted the poll.

"The chaos happened because of dissatisfaction over the irregularities in the vote," he said.

Neither the judges nor the prosecution asked him specifically about the military's role in organizing and directing the militias.

Wiranto said the East Timorese police were responsible for security matters, not the army. The military, he asserted, was responsible for overall national security.

Two years ago, a government human rights commission recommended the prosecution of the general and 32 other military and civilian officials after concluding they were responsible for the killing of more than 100 people, with many others wounded and raped. The U.N. panel made a similar finding.

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