Indonesia names controversial ex-general security minister

27 July 2016
Indonesia names controversial ex-general security minister
Head of People's Conscience Party (HANURA) Wiranto is seen duirng a campaign rally in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia, 27 March 2014. Photo: EPA

A controversial former military chief accused of atrocities during Indonesia's brutal occupation of East Timor was appointed top security minister Wednesday, with activists calling it a step backwards for human rights.
Wiranto, named to the powerful post in a cabinet reshuffle, was among senior officers indicted by United Nations prosecutors over gross human rights abuses during the 24-year occupation of tiny East Timor.
Around 100,000 people are estimated to have been killed, mainly by Indonesian forces and their proxies, or to have died of starvation and illness during the occupation, which occurred during dictator Suharto's three-decade rule.
President Joko Widodo announced 13 changes to his cabinet in the reshuffle, his second since taking power in 2014. Another key appointment is that of prominent reformist Sri MulyaniIndrawati, currently a World Bank managing director, to the post of finance minister. 
She previously held the post in 2005-10 and won praise for battling corruption and keeping Southeast Asia's biggest economy on track during the global financial crisis.
But she eventually resigned after facing attacks over a controversial bank bailout.
Wiranto, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, was head of the armed forces when the Indonesian army and paramilitaries went on a bloody rampage in East Timor after it voted to become independent in August 1999. The country formally became independent in 2002.
He denies any wrongdoing and has never faced court over the atrocities.
He replaces LuhutPanjaitan in the key role of chief security minister, overseeing five ministries including foreign, interior and defence. Observers suggest Panjaitan caused concern among the military elite and Islamic groups by taking unprecedented steps to probe a bloody 1960s purge of communists and their supporters.
"It is a setback," Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher for Human Rights Watch, told AFP.
"The message might be that Jokowi (Widodo) is not going to be as progressive as before in pursuing his human rights agenda."
Cabinet Secretary PramonoAnung defended the appointment of Wiranto, describing him as "tested and experienced". He was head of the military during the 1998 transition from authoritarian rule to democracy and has in the past held the posts of defence and security minister.
Despite the claims against him, Wiranto has managed to maintain a prominent position in public life. He has been a presidential candidate in two elections and in 2009 was the running mate of Jusuf Kalla, the current vice president.
It was Widodo's latest controversial appointment to the top echelons of the security establishment. He also faced criticism for makinghardline ex-general RyamizardRyacudu defence minister.
Panjaitan moved to the post of coordinating minister for maritime affairs, still a key job at a time when Indonesia is embroiled in rows with China over the South China Sea.