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'The President Named a Few People Close to Suharto'
Exclusive Web-only interview with Indonesian Defense Minister Mohamad Mahfud Mahmudin

September 15, 2000
Web posted at 9:00 p.m. Hong Kong time, 9:00 a.m. EDT

A former professor of constitutional law, Mohamad Mahfud Mahmudin took up the post of Defense Minister just two weeks ago. In his first interview with the foreign media, he spoke with Time East Asia correspondent Terry McCarthy and reporter Jason Tedjasukmana on Sept. 14 just after an emergency cabinet meeting called to discuss the stock exchange bombing:

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TIME: What can be done about the Timor crisis?
[President Wahid] agrees with me that in the case of West Timor there is no need to send a U.N. mission. We already have the necessary laws to handle human rights violations. We have asked for the militia to be disarmed. Maybe they hid some weapons in the jungle, but we are trying to break up the militias.

Now we have to handle the refugees. We will repatriate those who want to go to East Timor, as long as there is a guarantee for their safety. For those who want to stay [in Indonesia] there is a resettlement program. We have set aside land on Wetar Island off the coast of West Timor. We have prepared money for that.

Intelligence sources have told me there are foreign groups involved who want to cause trouble for Indonesia. They don't like the fact that there is still no functional government in East Timor and they want to use Indonesia as a scapegoat for that. We suspect there is an intelligence operation aimed to make Indonesia appear to be in the wrong.

TIME: Whose foreign intelligence service are you suggesting--Australia's?
I don't need to say who, but the international community knows who it is. Even you know and you asked because you have the same hunch.

TIME: Was Suharto behind the latest bombing at the Jakarta stock exchange?
The President [Abdurrahman Wahid] didn't say that directly, but I think he suspects that it was. The President named a few people close to Suharto at the cabinet meeting this morning. I can't say who they were.

TIME: Were they civilians or military?
Civilians. But he suspects the military have also been involved in the other bombings up to now.

TIME: Is former army chief General Wiranto involved in destabilizing the government?
No. I believe once a military man has lost his position, then his access to power is not as strong as before. It is people who are still in power who are the problem.

TIME: Are politicians a bigger problem than the military?
There are problems from all sides--members of the old government, military who are involving themselves in politics and regular politicians. There is never a sole reason for the disturbances, it is always complex.

TIME: With all the problems in Maluku, Aceh, Papua, West Timor--is it possible that Indonesia could break up?
We still believe things can be brought under control. But we have a problem. We want to exercise our sovereignty, but the international community is singling us out as violators of human rights. In the last three years the international community has been dictating to us a lot. We must keep our sovereignty.

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