Subject: Indonesian Army, MPs Rally Behind Timor Violence Suspects

Indonesia army, MPs rally behind Timor violence suspects

JAKARTA, Dec 9 (AFP) - The Indonesian army and top MPs have rallied behind defence lawers in trying to block the Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) from questioning officers suspected of complicity in last year's violence in East Timor, reports said Saturday.

"We will never hand over our soldiers for questioning conducted in the interests of UNTAET," the Jakarta Post quoted deputy army chief of staff Lieutenant General Kiki Syahnakri as saying.

Syahnakri was speaking on Friday while a nine-man legal team was waiting for the second straight day at the attorney general's office in Jakarta for five of the 22 suspects and witnesses called to show up.

While the team was waiting, the defence lawyers for the military and police officers named among the 22, held a separate press conference at which they vowed that their clients would be questioned by UNTAET.

The lawyers, headed by Adnan Buyung Nasution, argued that a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed by Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab in February -- which the attorney general's office said allowed the questioning -- was not a treaty, and could not be enforced.

House Speaker Akbar Tanjung, the head of the influential Golkar Party, also put his weight firmly behind the defence lawyers and their clients, nine of whom are army officers, the Post said.

"UNTAET's planned investigation must be cancelled because Indonesia has no treaty on such an investigation," Tanjung was quoted as saying.

He said the MoU was not binding because it had never come before the house.

The chairman of the House Commission on Legal and Home Affairs, Armin Aryosa also came to the officers' defence on the same grounds, but said he would seek a meeting with Attorney General Marzuki Darusman on the matter.

"Indonesia has no objection to UNTAET's investigation into the 1999 bloodshed ... but it has no authority to question Indonesian citizens," he said.

At least 600 people were killed and whole towns razed to the ground by Indonesian army-raised and trained militia in the wake of East Timor's overwhelming vote for independence from Indonesian on August 30 last year.

Another 250,000 East Timorese were driven or fled into Indonesian-controlled West Timor, while thousands more went into hiding in the mountains until UN-sanctioned troops arrived late in September to halt the violence.

The attorney general has argued that the questioning will be carried out by Indonesian investigators, with the UNTAET team providing material and sitting alongside their Indonesian counterparts.

"There has been no summons by UNTAET, nor is there any plan to hand over the witnesses to UNTAET," he was quoted by the Post as telling journalists.

Of the 22 suspects and witnesses, nine are military officers, ten from the national police, and three civilians.

Indonesia is conducting its own inquiry into the violence surrounding the vote, and had pleaded with the UN Human Rights Commission to give the attorney general's office time to prove it can bring the guilty to justice.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson has agreed, but has warned the Indonesian government that if justice is not done, an international rights tribunal may be convened.

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