Indonesia’s president rapped over hardline defence minister

JAKARTA – Indonesia’s reformist new president Joko Widodo has come under fire for appointing a hardline ex-general as defence minister, with activists saying on Wednesday it marks a step backwards for human rights.

Widodo, the country’s first leader from outside the political and military elites, surprised observers by naming former army chief of staff, Ryamizard Ryacudu, to his cabinet at the weekend. Activists have alleged that abuses took place during his leadership of military operations to quash separatist groups in Aceh, on western Sumatra island, and in the eastern region of Papua.

In 2003, he was criticised for praising a group of soldiers who had been jailed for killing a Papuan pro-independence leader as heroes. “There is pessimism that he will respect human rights,” said Al Araf of prominent rights group Imparsial. “The appointment of a hardliner like Ryamizard Ryacudu tells us that President Widodo is not serious about promoting human rights or reaching out to Papua,” John M Miller from the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network said.

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