Indonesia's president has appointed a controversial former military chief, Wiranto, as the country's top security minister.

Wednesday's cabinet shake-up is President Joko Widodo's attempt at strengthening the Southeast Asian country's struggling economy.

General Wiranto had been accused of committing atrocities during Indonesia's occupation of East Timor.

He was in charge of the military when the Indonesian army and paramilitaries carried out deadly assaults after East Timor sought independence from Indonesia in 1999.

About 100,000 people are estimated to have been killed, mainly by Indonesian forces and their proxies, or died of starvation and illness during the occupation.

East Timor was occupied by Indonesia for 24 years until it broke away in 1999 [Getty Images]

Wiranto was among other senior officers indicted by UN prosecutors over human rights abuses during the 24-year occupation period.

Despite evidence gathered proving his role in the killings of 1999, Wiranto denies any wrongdoing and has never faced court over the atrocities.

Wiranto will be overseeing five ministries including foreign, interior and defence.


READ MORE: Indonesia rejects ruling on 1960s mass killing 


Activists called this recent cabinet reshuffle a step backwards for human rights.

"It is a setback," Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher for the Human Rights Watch organisation, told AFP news agency.

"The message might be that Jokowi is not going to be as progressive as before in pursuing his human rights agenda."

Struggling economy

Wiranto replaces Luhut Panjaitan as chief security minister.

Observers suggest that the military elite and religious groups were concerned when Panjaitan began taking unprecedented steps to probe a 1960s purge of communists and their supporters.

This cabinet shake-up is Joko's attempt at boosting efforts to strengthen the country's struggling economy.


READ MORE: After the massacre - Indonesia's first step in healing


He said there are "difficult challenges" facing the government, including tackling poverty, reviving the slowing economy and reducing unemployment.

"Those challenges require us to work faster," he said.

Among the newly appointed members is Sri Mulyani Indrawati, currently the World Bank managing director, who has been named the new finance minister.

She previously held the post in 2005-10.

Report: Indonesian state 'responsible for genocide' in 1965

Source: Agencies