East Timor and Indonesia promote a future of friendship
by Mathias Hariyadi
On July 15, the two countries signed an agreement intended to overcome the crimes and violence of the past. Relief expressed by retired general Wiranto, former head of the army, among those most responsible for the massacres of 1999.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - With the formal apologies expressed by Indonesian president Yudhoyono to his East Timor counterpart Ramos Horta, over the atrocities committed by the army and the policy, one of the bloodiest chapters in the recent past of southeast Asia comes to a close. Last July 15 in Bali, amid smiles, handshakes, and mutual satisfaction, the final document was signed that had been drawn up by the commission instituted to assess the events of 1999. The document stresses Jakarta's direct involvement in the clashes that broke out in the former province of eastern Indonesia, following its declaration of independence recognised by the United Nations.

Indonesian president Susilo, East Timor prime minister Xanana Gusmao, and president Ramos Horta promised closer collaboration between the two countries, leaving behind all of the "errors" and "wounds' of the past ten years. For this reason, the leaders emphasise with one voice that "it is more important to establish relations of friendship" than to "hand over the Indonesian military authorities to justice and have them tried". They also expressed "deep remorse" toward those who had to undergo "crimes and abuses including murder, violence, rape, and forced relocation".

The new climate of harmony and cooperation was welcomed with relief by the former commanders of the Indonesian army, responsible to a great extent for the atrocities that marked the past of East Timor, including the retired general and army head Wiranto. "I received the news with a deep sense of relief", says Fachrul Razi, one of the loyal followers of the former military leader, at the head of the Hanura party founded by Wiranto himself in 2006. The current prime minister and former guerrilla leader Xanana Gusmao seems to be of the same opinion, saying he is "satisfied with the signing of the agreement".

But there are also voices of dissent, which are asking for justice and for those responsible for the crimes to be put on trial. "Wiranto should be handed over for justice", says Usman Hamid, the head of Kontras, the Indonesian commission set up for people who have disappeared or been victims of violence. "The clashes caused killed or injured hundreds, and just as many have had to abandon their homes in the former province of East Timor, and have not received any compensation for their losses". Theo L. Sambuaga, an Indonesian member of parliament, stresses that "justice must be done", and "the wrong done to part of the Indonesian population must be repaired".

Human rights activists are clamouring for the creation of a mixed international tribunal, which would try those implicated in the 1999 massacre according to UN procedures. The proposal is rejected by the political leaders of the two countries, increasingly oriented toward "closing with the past" and creating a new era of relations between Indonesia and East Timor.