‘Pak’ Prabowo seeks to ‘clear’ his name over Timor atrocities allegations in media jousting

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INDONESIAN presidential hopeful ‘Pak” Prabowo, the retired Kopassus general notorious for his alleged human rights violations in Timor-Leste, has finally broken his silence and made a statement to the Jakarta Post denouncing a recent article about his past as “scurrilous allegations”.

Prabowo Subianto, retired Kopassus general, is hopeful of becoming Indonesia's president.

Retired Kopassus general Prabowo Subianto is hopeful of becoming Indonesia’s next president.

Dr David Robie also blogs at Café Pacific
By DAVID ROBIE

INDONESIAN presidential hopeful ‘Pak” Prabowo, the retired Kopassus general notorious for his alleged human rights violations in Timor-Leste, has finally broken his silence and made a statement to the Jakarta Post denouncing a recent article about his past as “scurrilous allegations”.

Yet his odious record speaks for itself.

He claims in an open letter that allegations about his actions three decades ago, notably the massacre in August 1983 in Kraras – now known as the “village of widows”,  were “based on unproven allegations, innuendos and third-hand reports”.

What was he forced to reply to? Journalist Aboeprijadi Santoso, a contributor  to The Jakarta Post writing from the safety of Amsterdam, had written an article entitled: “Whatever happened in Kraras, Timor-Leste, ‘Pak’ Prabowo?”

Timor-Leste soldiers and young citizens paying homage to the Kraras  massacre victims in 2013. Photo: David Robie

Timor-Leste soldiers and young citizens paying homage to the Kraras massacre victims in 2013. Photo: David Robie

He was referring to the massacre that has been immortalised in Beatriz’s War, the harrowing new film about the Timorese struggle for independence from Indonesia, especially telling the story from a woman’s perspective.

Heroine Beatriz (a composite character created from real life people) was a survivor from the Kraras massacre. Prabowo is depicted as being responsible for many human rights atrocities in the film.

Santoso recently described Prabowo as one of the “most interesting – and
most controversial” presidential hopefuls in the Indonesian elections
due in July because he has reinvented himself as an anti-corruption
campaigner.

But Santoso also highlighted Prabowo’s alleged human rights record, saying:

[O]ne would be left wondering why we know little about his role in Indonesia’s former 27th province, now Timor-Leste, where his later military career was shaped. In the late 1970s he was proud to have eliminated Fretilin’s first president Nicolau do Reis Lobato.

Prabowo’s name has often been associated with a village called Kraras – the place where recently Timor Leste commemorated both the 38th anniversary of [Timor-Leste's] declaration of independence and the 30th anniversary of the worst massacre in the nation’s history.

Beatriz looks for her husband among the bodies after the 1983 Kraras massacre, as portrayed in  Beatriz's War, East Timor's first feature film.

Beatriz looks for her husband among the bodies after the 1983 Kraras massacre, as portrayed in Beatriz’s War, East Timor’s first feature film.

Kraras, some 300 km from the capital Dili, in the district of Viqueque, is beautifully couched in a wide valley with a river near the forest. When I visited in April last year, I found it almost an empty field with a few dispersed houses containing fewer than 100 inhabitants. Friendly villagers welcomed us as we asked about the locality, its people and its history.

Nothing — except the memorial monuments — suggests it was once the locus of a bloody massacre. But in neighboring areas called Bibileo and Klalerek Mutin, one will find houses and various relics of the recent past that indicate militarization. One building, now a school, must have been a center of command with signs for the platoons once stationed there.

Some villagers even decorated their houses with wanted posters of 19 generals seen as being responsible for the country’s bloody past. Among them are photographs of generals Suharto, Benny Murdani, Wiranto, Kiki Syahnakri and Prabowo.

Lieutenant-General (ret) Prabowo ... accused  of atrocities in Timor-Leste and now campaigning for the presidency as an anti-corruption reformer. Photo: Indonesia 2014.

Lieutenant-General (ret) Prabowo … accused
of atrocities in Timor-Leste and now campaigning for the presidency as an anti-corruption reformer. Photo: Indonesia 2014.

This article was of special interest to me as I was actually at the Kraras memorial events last November 28. So what was Prabowo’s self defence?

His open letter in the The Jakarta Post, shortly after Christmas, said:

Letter to the editor:
Prabowo clarifies

I am writing this response to the article entitled “Whatever happened in Kraras, Timor Leste, ‘Pak’ Prabowo?” written by Aboeprijadi Santoso, which appeared in the December 20 edition of The Jakarta Post.

This essay, and specific charges relating to the tragic events at Kraras, is clearly a personal attack on my military career and personal reputation, based on unproven allegations, innuendos and third-hand reports — none substantiated, by either the United Nations or current Timor-Leste authorities.

It is revealing that this issue, dealing with events that took place over 30 years ago, has been revived and finds its way into the press just 100 days before the coming Indonesian legislative election, in a manner clearly intended to cast serious doubt on me, as one of the leading candidates for the office of the president of the Republic of Indonesia.

I thus wish to protest in the strongest terms and to refute the scurrilous allegations, none of which are substantiated, contained in this article.

Let me ask you this. If indeed I am guilty of this massacre, and other such war crimes, how is it that I have been accepted and even photographed in meetings and friendly conversation with former Timor-Leste president Xanana Gusmao (April 20, 2001), Lere Anan Timur (November 21, 2008) and Mari Alkatiri (June 20, 2013)?

Photographs and articles confirming this were published by the Post, which by the way should have done its homework before publishing Aboeprijadi’s article.

Would Xanana and other Timorese freedom fighters, our nation’s former enemies, have befriended an Indonesian officer truly guilty of such despicable crimes against civilians?

For the record, I insist I was nowhere near the site of the “Kraras Massacre” that occurred in Viqueque district on August 8, 1983 and I seriously challenge anyone to offer proof that I was either in the vicinity or that I issued any order to abuse or kill civilians.

Neither the UN nor the government of Timor Leste have ever proffered charges of human rights violations against me, and the article in question reveals this, with its “[…] all had heard of Prabowo, but none said to have seen him in the area […]”, “allegedly involved in a number of human rights violations” and “the circumstances that led to renewed violence remain largely unclear”.

If the facts remain unclear, what is the point of bringing up this tragedy and pointing the finger at an Indonesian presidential candidate, except to undermine and cast a shadow on his electoral campaign?

In fact, my name was cleared in an investigative article by Jose Manuel Tesoro, carried in the March 13, 2000 edition of Asiaweek, which states the following:

“The question is: How far did Prabowo participate in all this? To obtain details of his alleged abuses, Asiaweek contacted four separate non-governmental organisations monitoring military atrocities. These were TAPOL in London; Solidamor in Jakarta; the HAK Foundation, headquartered in Dili; and the East Timor Action Network [ETAN] in New York. We asked for eyewitness reports, transcripts of intercepted communications, leaked papers or anything that could substantiate these stories. None could provide them.”

As a matter of fact, on many occasions I protected Falintil guerrillas taken prisoner by the Indonesian Military (TNI) and Timorese civilians from reprisals, in a complex and confused situation, where the Indonesian Army became involved in a civil conflict, one in which brother frequently stood against brother and the battle lines were unclear.

These tired and unproven rumors, as recited in this article (some three decades after the fact, conducted and written up by a journalist who apparently is well known for his grudges and animosity toward the TNI) are a matrix of lies, unsupported by history.

Ask the Timorese themselves what happened. I claim that this whispering campaign is most probably backed by an old guard of corrupt Indonesian politicians, frightened of a popular movement that appeals to the aspirations of millions of young people and the underprivileged poor, and which is determined to quash corruption and institute clean government.

Lt. Gen. (ret.) Prabowo Subianto
Jakarta

Café Pacific publisher David Robie on the parade ground at Kraras recently. Photo: Eddy Pinto.

Café Pacific publisher David Robie on the parade ground at Kraras recently. Photo: Eddy Pinto.

Incidentally, Prabowo seems to have the blessing of the chief editor of Asia Globe, a sister publication of the rival English-language newspaper Jakarta Globe, according to Yanto Soegiarto, writing in a column this week.

While many Indonesian correspondents posted messages at The Jakarta Post defending their war hero in Timor-Leste for fighting for Indonesian “sovereignty”, one at least had the courage to call a spade a spade:

Insular inward thinking of the first degree,” wrote “No one special”. “Prabowo actions in Timor-Leste had nothing to do with sovereignty other than the vast business interest built up by the [elite] “families”. The monies of which you spoke, the taxes of Indonesian citizens, were spent on infrastructure to support those businesses.

If you wish to see the real Prabowo then look no further than the Hokien massacres of 1998 and again in order to take away the focus on the “families”.

Be wise indeed my friends for those who forget their history are doomed to relive their past.

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About the author

Professor at AUT University

Dr David Robie is professor of journalism and director of AUT University’s Pacific Media Centre. He is a strong advocate of independent media at the country’s journalism schools. David has published the media transparency blog Café Pacific since 2006. - See More