January 17, 2008 / 8:08 AM / 11 years ago

East Timor president asks nation to forgive Suharto

DILI (Reuters) - East Timor’s president urged Timorese to pray for Suharto, the former Indonesian president who ordered the brutal invasion of East Timor in 1975 and who now lies critically ill in hospital.

A woman walks past a poster of former Indonesian President Suharto in Jakarta, December 17, 2008. REUTERS/Dadang Tri

Suharto, now 86, who ruled Indonesia for more than three decades, has been fighting for his life for nearly two weeks, and is now on a ventilator following multiple organ failure.

Doctors treating Suharto in a Jakarta hospital appeared less optimistic on Thursday than a day earlier and said he was still on a ventilator, with signs of systemic infection persisting.

With Suharto now so sick, his legacy is being widely discussed. His rule was marked by rapid economic growth and political stability, but was also marred by massacres, human rights abuses, and endemic corruption.

“It is impossible for us to forget the past, but East Timor should forgive him before he dies and I ask people to pray for Suharto as former president of Indonesia,” said East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta, some of whose family were killed during the occupation.

East Timor suffered heavily under Indonesia’s rule, and only won independence after Suharto was forced to step down in 1998.

Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 at the end of Portuguese rule and annexed the territory later that year, maintaining a heavy and sometimes harsh military presence.

More than 200,000 people — a quarter of the population — are estimated to have died in fighting, famine and disease that followed the invasion and during Jakarta’s occupation.

Ramos-Horta said he would not visit Suharto in hospital, but added he would ask Pope Benedict to pray for the former leader when he visited the Vatican on Friday.

Predominantly Roman Catholic East Timor voted to break away from 23 years of Indonesian rule in a violence-marred vote in 1999 and became fully independent in 2002.

“Suharto made many things positive for Indonesia, such as improving the economy and development, but he also made many mistakes such as massacres in Indonesia and East Timor,” Ramos-Horta said.


The East Timor president reiterated his view that the tiny nation’s best interests, and its relations with Indonesia, would not be helped by setting up an international court to try those accused of atrocities.

East Timor and Indonesia set up a truth commission to probe the bloody events surrounding the 1999 independence vote.

The body, modelled on South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, has no power to prosecute, prompting criticism from rights groups that it serves to whitewash the atrocities.

Separately, a rights activist for a group representing victims’ families called for greater justice.

“There should be no impunity for Suharto and his friends. Suharto and other Indonesian generals should be held responsible for murders in East Timor,” Edio Saldanha, told Reuters.

But with the former general in critical condition in hospital, it looks increasingly unlikely he will ever face trial for human rights abuses or graft.

The head of the medical team, who on Sunday gave Suharto a 50:50 chance of surviving, said there was still an equal chance of a recovery or deterioration in the former general’s condition.

“But we are optimistic. Pak Harto still has a strong will to live,” Mardjo Soebiandono told a news conference, referring to Suharto by his popular name.

Djusuf Misbach, a neurologist treating Suharto, said the former president was still showing responses, but because he was sedated it was difficult to assess that.

Additional reporting by Telly Nathalia; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Bill Tarrant

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