Moving beyond the shadow play

The Straits Times (Singapore)

April 26, 2008

John McBeth, Senior Writer

WHEN Mr Xanana Gusmao pays his first visit to Indonesia as Timor Leste’s Prime Minister next week, the former guerilla leader and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will have plenty to talk about – including possibly an Indonesian television talk show called Kick Andi.

With the past continuing to haunt bilateral relations, the main issue is likely to be how the two governments handle the pending Indonesia-Timor Leste Truth and Reconciliation Commission report on the militia-led rampage following Dili’s vote for independence in August 1999.

Sources close to the commission say the report, which has more than 300 pages, will be personally handed to President Yudhoyono, Mr Gusmao and Timor Leste President Jose Ramos-Horta at the end of May, and it will be up to them to decide when to release it to the public.

President Yudhoyono and Mr Gusmao are also expected to focus on who may have been behind the near-fatal shooting of Mr Ramos-Horta on Feb 11 and how the leader of the plot, Alfredo Reinado, was able to appear on Jakarta TV last year when he was on the run.

No one is linking the two events at this point, but much depends on the outcome of police inquiries into the origin of A$800,000 (S$1 million) which was transferred to the Darwin bank account of Reinado’s lover prior to the assassination bid that cost the rebel army officer his life.

Reinado is reported to have accessed about A$200,000 of that money through a Dili bank, including A$30,000 in cash which was found stuffed in his pockets after he was gunned down by Mr Ramos-Horta’s security guards in the early-morning shoot-out.

Why it is taking the Australian authorities so long to trace the source of the money puzzles Mr Ramos-Horta and many other observers, given the way they have Timor Leste and the immediate region literally wired for sound.

The answer probably lies in the fact that the whole episode is politically sensitive, as shown by President Yudhoyono’s angry reaction when Mr Ramos-Horta reportedly blamed Indonesian elements for the attempt on his life after his return on April 17 from two months of recuperation in Australia.

The Indonesian President warned Mr Ramos-Horta he was putting ties between the two countries in jeopardy, saying he had breached the confidentiality of a phone conversation the two had held a week before on who may have been involved in the plot.

‘What got the President cross was Ramos-Horta jumping to conclusions and getting ahead of himself,’ spokesman Dino Djalal told The Straits Times.

‘We still don’t know where the money may have come from.’

Still in obvious discomfort from the two chest wounds that almost ended his life, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate later insisted he had been misquoted. But he did not retreat from his claim that individuals in Indonesia were involved in the plot.

Acting on information supplied by the Dili prosecutor’s office, Indonesian police have so far detained four former soldiers from Timor Leste who fled into West Timor in the aftermath of the assassination attempt.

Mr Ramos-Horta, however, seemed more interested in the implications of Reinado’s movements in Indonesia last May, two months after mutinous troops loyal to the rebel leader triggered the worst disturbances in Dili since 1999.

The Timor Leste President wanted to know what help Reinardo had received in crossing the border without proper papers and making his way to Jakarta for a studio interview.

Equally curious has been the role of Hercules Rozario Marcal, a one-armed Timor-born gang leader with close ties to at least one retired senior intelligence officer and other individuals in the Indonesian military.

Reinado, Hercules and militia leader Eurico Guterres, recently cleared of human rights violations in the 1999 rampage, all served as porters for Indonesian special forces in the 1980s during Jakarta’s 25-year occupation of the former Portuguese colony.

Complicating the picture is the fact that only three weeks before the Ramos-Horta shooting, Mr Gusmao had received Hercules and a delegation of Indonesian businessmen who supposedly wanted to invest in a five-star hotel and an upscale housing development.

Mr Ramos-Horta muddied the waters himself by linking well-known presenter Desi Anwar with Reinado’s interview, when it actually aired on Kick Andi, a twice-weekly evening show hosted by Metro TV chief editor Andy Noya.

Ms Anwar, who hardly looks the part of a Mata Hari, was incensed that Mr Ramos-Horta seemed to be implying she had a hand in the assassination conspiracy. ‘If he can’t get even the most basic information correct, then perhaps everything he is being fed is bogus,’ she said.

Good point. Except that no one at Metro wanted to address the more cogent question of where the Reinado interview took place. The station’s public relations manager wasn’t saying and Mr Noya himself was honouring a promise to keep the information confidential.

Sporting newly dyed red hair, which kicked off a fashion trend among his supporters in Dili, Reinado was interviewed for the programme against a black cloth background in a supposed ‘secret location’. Hercules appeared on the same show several days later.

Spokesman Djalal could shed no light on the location, but he did have one observation: ‘These (TV) guys are quite resourceful. It was all very hush-hush and when the programme was aired, he (Reinado) had already gone.’

The whole episode raises questions about the shadowy figures, some of them self-appointed guardians of the unitary state, who still haunt Indonesian politics. As one retired Indonesian general put it: ‘There will always be elements fighting for their interests in the context of 1999.’

Similar suspicions attend the long-stuttering investigation into the bizarre 2004 murder of Indonesian human rights campaigner Munir Said Thalib, and widespread fears of agitation in Aceh where independence conspiracy theories abound ahead of the 2009 elections.

It is still unclear what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has come up with in its findings and how the two governments will act on its non-binding recommendations. But The Straits Times has learnt that both sides did reach a consensus without resorting to a vote.

In the end, the report is likely to be viewed with scepticism by the United Nations and Western governments, given the widely held perception that Timor Leste has little choice but to appease its giant neighbour.

The Indonesian Supreme Court’s recent acquittal of Guterres, the only person convicted for his role in the 1999 violence, has only served to underline the fact that Indonesia continues to see itself as much an aggrieved party as Timor Leste.

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