EAST TIMOR: Mixed responses to Megawati

August 1, 2001


As campaigning for the Constituent Assembly elections slowly gathers momentum across East Timor, the installation of Megawati Sukarnoputri as Indonesia's new president has drawn a mixed response from East Timor's political leaders and human rights groups.

A joint statement from Xanana Gusmao and Jose Ramos Horta, issued while attending the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) ministerial meeting in Hanoi welcomed Megawati's appointment, calling for the continuation of "the process of dialogue towards normalising relations and building the foundations of a solid and long lasting friendship".

Commenting on Abdurahman Wahid's reluctance to be removed as president, Horta said that he should depart "with moderation and dignity" and not call on his followers to go on to the streets in opposition to the verdict.

Other East Timorese, however, are concerned that the change in Indonesian president will not see an improvement in Jakarta's relations with East Timor. As vice-president, Megawati consistently refused to meet with delegations visiting Jakarta from the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor, including those which involved Gusmao, Horta and other prominent East Timorese leaders.

Equally worrying is Megawati's close association with the Indonesian military and her links to the pro-Jakarta East Timorese militia groups still operating in refugee camps across the Indonesian province of West Timor.

Aniceto Guterres, director of Yayasan Hak, one East Timor's main legal aid and human rights organisation, told Associated Press on July 24 he believed Megawati would protect those in the Indonesian military responsible for gross human rights abuses in East Timor.

There are concerns that there will be a cessation in the limited moves within the Indonesian legal system to investigate and bring to trial military officers for human rights crimes conducted in East Timor in 1999. "I am now pessimistic those in the military [who are] responsible will be brought to justice", stated prominent human rights lawyer Aderito de Jesus Soares.

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