updated 5/10/2004 6:55:39 AM ET 2004-05-10T10:55:39

A U.N.-backed tribunal issued an arrest warrant on Monday against Indonesia's former military chief and current presidential candidate Gen. Wiranto for human rights abuses during the territory's bloody break with Jakarta in 1999.

"The issuance of the Wiranto warrant is an important step in our continuing efforts to bring to justice those responsible for the violence against the civilian population of East Timor in 1999," said U.N. prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian in a statement released in East Timor.

The warrant comes seven weeks after a special tribunal formally indicted Wiranto for command responsibility for "murder, deportation and persecution" during the events of 1999 in which at least 1,500 people died and much of the territory was destroyed by marauding Indonesian troops.

Last month, Golkar, the largest party in the Indonesian parliament, nominated Wiranto — who resigned from the military in 2000 — as its candidate in the July 5 presidential elections. The East Timorese warrant, which will likely be forwarded to Interpol, means that Wiranto could be arrested if he leaves Indonesia.

Jakarta has vowed not to cooperate with the U.N.-backed tribunal in East Timor and not to extradite any of the several hundred suspects accused over the violence.

Wiranto has denied any wrongdoing and claims the accusations are part of a conspiracy to undermine his presidential aspirations.

Polls show that Wiranto enjoys only marginal voter support and the support of Golkar — the former political machine of ex-dictator Suharto — is unlikely to be enough to propel him to the presidency.

Wiranto is one of more than 380 people who have been indicted by the U.N.-funded tribunal. Of those, about 50 have been convicted — mostly East Timorese militiamen used as auxiliaries by the Indonesian troops during the rampage.

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