Subject: SMH: Gusmao and Belo on collision course over justice

Sydney Morning Herald Monday, December 18, 2000 Gusmao and Belo on collision course over justice

By Mark Dodd, Herald Correspondent in Dili

The East Timor independence leader, Xanana Gusmao, is seeking more international support for a South African-style truth and reconciliation commission as the best way of achieving peace in his country.

Mr Gusmao acknowledged that his country, recovering from 24 years of violence, was divided on the vexing question of justice. But he told the Herald that he did not believe reconciliation could be fostered exclusively through stiff penal measures handed down by the courts.

"I don't deny the need of justice, "Mr Gusmao said. "People sometimes say if you don't punish these people you will allow a political party to do the same because everyone now knows there is no justice. I myself don't believe in this process."

His views put him on a collision course with East Timor's Nobel Prize-winning Bishop Carlos Belo, whose fire-and-brimstone sermons advocate stiff penalties for gross human rights violations.

More than 1,000 East Timorese were killed in political violence that followed the referendum on self-determination from Indonesia on August 30, 1999. As much as 80 per cent of the infrastructure was destroyed and more than 250,0000 people were deported to Indonesian West Timor.

UN-administered courts are preparing to hear the first war crimes cases against Indonesian army-backed militia leaders responsible for the bloody mayhem.

However, Mr Gusmao warned these proceedings could jeopardise sensitive talks aimed at securing the return of thousands of refugees still living in militia-controlled camps in West Timor.

"Nobody in the world said to [Nelson] Mandela, 'Your Commission of Truth and Reconciliation is unacceptable'; everybody applauded it.

"To us [East Timor], it seems there are demands. How can we dream of being a model of justice in the world?

"My problem is if you try the militia, one or two immediately, the others will not come."

He believed in community-based reconciliation in which the leaders of pro-autonomy political parties and organisers of last year's violence return to the scene of their crimes and ask for forgiveness.

In August, during the national congress of the National Council of Timorese Resistance, Mr Gusmao said he was approached by community leaders demanding just such an apology.

"They said: we demand that the political parties that caused suffering to the people go to the people, talk to the people and ask for forgiveness and promise not to do it again," he said.

"I'm thinking of a process of reconciliation here that can avoid instability in the future and one that people can accept.

"I will not say no justice, but in a process maybe like South Africa," he said, adding that reconciliation from the heart was more effective than through the courts.

Mr Gusmao said he would continue to press the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) for a date for full independence and a transfer of sovereign power. He favoured August 30, 2001, but a few months either side was not a problem.

The man regarded as the most likely next president of East Timor is resisting UNTAET pressure to allow pro-autonomy political parties to contest national elections next year.

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