Subject: IHT: Justice in East Timor Doesn't Look Likely

International Herald Tribune Wednesday, August 2, 2000


Justice in East Timor Doesn't Look Likely

By Mark Dodd International Herald Tribune

DILI, East Timor - It took only minutes before a team of eminent Indonesian legal investigators was given a sharp reminder of how little East Timorese passions have subsided on the question of justice for last year's bloody electoral violence.

Led by Rachman, a deputy attorney general, the Indonesians were in Dili recently togather evidence on five murderous incidents committed by Jakarta's military or their militia proxies. Two of the killings occurred before the vote on self-determination last Aug. 30 that was organized by the United Nations and that is now leading to independence.

For East Timorese journalists, the violence - especially the two weeks of unchecked intimidation and destruction that followed the announcement of the landslideindependence victory on Sept. 4, 1999 - remains an emotionally explosive issue.

Their questions to the visiting Indonesian panel reflected the widespread conviction of most ordinary East Timorese that Indonesia is incapable of bringing to justice the generals and militia leaders responsible for the murder and mayhem.

Evidence has also emerged recently of divisions within the UN mission in East Timor that is overseeing its transition to independence over the merits of going after senior militia leaders. The concern is that such a move could jeopardize efforts to heal relations between the two countries.

There is also concern that the arrest or detention of high profile militia leaders could jeopardize attempts to secure the return of some 120,000 East Timorese remaining in camps in Indonesian West Timor under the control of the militia.

The price to be paid may well be the freedom of a handful of notorious pro-Jakarta militia commanders implicated in crimes against humanity, for which there is no pardon under international law.

The political department of the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor may have some unlikely allies. In private talks, Xanana Gusmão, the East Timor independence leader, who is regarded as most likely to be the country's first democratically elected president, has raised the possibility of blanket pardons for militia leaders. By contrast, Dili's Nobel laureate bishop, Carlos Belo, remains a staunch advocate of legal proceedings against those responsible for post-ballot violence and other killings.

There are about 80 militiamen in UN custody in Dili facing serious criminal charges, including murder and rape. The first trial is expected to take place in the next few weeks.

The United Nations is offering support for the investigation launched by Indonesia's attorney general, Marzuki Darusman, against the generals and other senior officials linked to the violence last year. Several key East Timorese witnesses feel so strongly about the militia violence and the role played by the Indonesian military - which was supposed to maintain security in the troubled territory - that they have offered to travel to Jakarta to testify.

Their offer is frought with risk given that most of the militia leaders and military officers responsible for the bloodshed are still at large. After Indonesian prosecutors questioned three generals in May who were implicated in last year's bloodshed, unidentified assailants answered with bombs at the attorney general's offices in Jakarta.

This was seen as clear evidence of powerful forces in Indonesia who are determined to oppose any investigation into the military's bloody past role in East Timor.

The writer, a journalist based in East Timor, contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.

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