Indonesia's leader vows to solve murder case
By John Aglionby in Canggu and Taufan Hidayat in Jakarta 

Published: January 1 2009 16:35 | Last updated: January 1 2009 16:35

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia's president, has vowed to uncover the 
orchestrators of the murder of one of the country's most prominent human rights 
activists after a former senior spy was acquitted of planning the crime.

Muchdi Purwoprandjono, a former Indonesian deputy intelligence chief, was found 
not guilty on Wednesday of charges that he assigned an agent to poison Munir 
Thalib, who died on a flight to Amsterdam in September 2004. 

The murder and the willingness of authorities to investigate it has become a 
barometer for accountability and the rule of law in democratic Indonesia, where 
many of former dictator Suharto's former elite remain influential.

Andi Mallarangeng, a presidential spokesman, said Mr Yudhoyono, a Suharto-era 
general, was committed to solving the killing of Munir and would summon the 
police chief and attorney-general to prepare the best way forward.

"The president's instruction to the police and the prosecutor's office is that 
they must solve this case and bring those responsible to trial," Mr 
Mallarangeng said.

Mr Yudhoyono is under pressure to bring the perpetrators to justice because he 
made it one of his pre-election promises in 2004. Indonesians go to the polls 
in April and July in legislative and presidential elections respectively.

Usman Hamid, who replaced Munir as head of the Commission of Missing People and 
Victims of Violence, said after Wednesday's verdict: "Today the judiciary 
failed to deliver justice and that means not only did the president's authority 
fail but also Indonesia has not passed the test of history." 

The acquittal of Mr Muchdi will also test Jakarta's ties with several foreign 
nations, particularly the US, who have said the failure to convict the 
mastermind behind Munir's murder would harm relations with Indonesia. 

Munir died of arsenic poisoning on a Garuda Indonesia flight from Singapore. 
Pollycarpus Priyanto, a former Garuda pilot, was sentenced last January to 20 
years in prison for lacing Munir's drink at Singapore's Changi airport.

Indra Setiawan, a former Garuda chief executive, was jailed for a year the 
following month for falsifying letters authorising Mr Pollycarpus to travel on 
Munir's flight.

Mr Muchdi is the first two-star general or senior intelligence official to have 
been tried in a civilian court. Under the Suharto regime, which ended in 1998, 
the security forces were virtually untouchable.

This trial had been seen as a test of how far accountability has progressed in 
the last decade.

Prosecutors alleged Mr Muchdi's motivation for ordering Munir's murder was the 
latter's unveiling of human rights abuses, including the abduction of 13 human 
rights activists in 1997 and 1998.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

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