East Timor Leader Says Voters Will Judge Former Indonesian Military Strongman

07 July 2009

Prabowo Subianto (File photo)
Prabowo Subianto (File)
East Timor's President Jose Ramos-Horta says it is up to Indonesian voters to judge a former army commander who hopes to become vice president in Wednesday's elections. Human rights groups accuse Prabowo Subianto of orchestrating atrocities in both East Timor and Indonesia.

Human rights organizations allege that soldiers under Prabowo Subianto's command murdered and kidnapped opponents and dissidents in both East Timor and Jakarta.

He served several tours of duty in East Timor, where Indonesian forces were accused of war crimes, including rape, torture and murder.

He also has links to the former dictator, President Suharto, and went into exile when that government fell in the late 1990s.

The former army chief has strongly denied any wrongdoing. His reinvention as a politician has been bankrolled by his brother, a wealthy businessman.

In Wednesday's presidential elections, Prabowo Subianto is the running mate of Megawati Sukarnoputri, who served as Indonesian leader between 2001 and 2004.

In East Timor, which seceded from Indonesia after a bloody vote for independence a decade ago, President Jose Ramos-Horta says it is up to Indonesians to judge Prabowo Subianto at the ballot box.

"It is Prabowo and the Indonesia people who have to deal with each other for Prabowo's role in the violence in Indonesia but it is their sovereign right, their responsibility, their choice," he said.

Under President Suharto, Indonesia's military was powerful and unchecked in its efforts to halt separatist movements in several parts of the country. In East Timor, which Indonesia annexed in 1976, the military fought an insurgency for two decades, and in the weeks surrounding the country's 1999 vote for independence, soldiers and anti-independence militias ran wild, burning buildings and attacking civilians.

Despite the efforts of human rights groups, no senior military officials have been held responsible for the violence.

About 170 million registered voters in the world's most populous Muslim country will choose among three candidates in Wednesday's election; President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his Vice President Jusuf Kalla, and former President Megawati Sukarnoputri.