JAKARTA ~ A retired Indonesian general accused of gross human rights violations around East Timor’s bloody vote for independence denied this week that they had occurred.
Major General Zacky Anwar Makarim was testifying at hearings of a commission seeking the truth about deadly violence and widespread destruction around the 1999 poll, which led to the end of Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor.
“According to me, there were no gross violations of human rights because there was no state policy in this case – there was no order from (the then-Indonesian president) BJ Habibie to exterminate, burn down East Timor,” he said on Wednesday.
The UN has said that militia gangs, recruited and directed by Indonesia’s military, killed about 1,400 people and destroyed much of the infrastructure in the former Portuguese colony around that time.
“We were very concerned that the ballots should proceed calmly and securely because we were the ones responsible,” Makarim told the Indonesia-East Timor Truth and Friendship Commission.
The retired general, who was the defense advisor for the Indonesian team tasked with safeguarding the UN-administered referendum, said the situation was instead one where various groups had committed crimes.
He said the people who should be held responsible for the violence were “those groups who did it, they should be held to account in a normal criminal court.”
The UN-established East Timor Serious Crimes Unit, set up the investigate crimes against humanity and other serious offences in East Timor in 1999, has charged Makarim with murder, deportation and persecution.
“All those accusations are not accurate and I am ready anytime to be confronted,” said the general, who is listed by the unit as “at large” in Indonesia.
Makarim said the causes of the violence included the fact that the Portuguese left behind 27,000 firearms.
He claimed the UN body that administered the 1999 referendum favoured the pro-independence movement, fomenting unrest.
He also said the East Timorese had long been disunited and had a culture of warfare in their blood.
The commission, which held its latest hearings in Jakarta, has already quizzed Habibie, who denied stoking unrest. It expects to collect testimony from 70 people overall.
An Indonesian rights court set up to try military officers and officials for atrocities in East Timor was widely condemned as a sham for failing to jail any Indonesians.
Impoverished East Timor is due to hold its first presidential vote since independence, but there are fears new unrest could mar the April 9 poll.