Subject: SMH: Talks with militia leaders focus on refugees' return

Sydney Morning Herald November 18, 2000

Talks with militia leaders focus on refugees' return

By MARK DODD, Herald Correspondent in Dili

The United Nations has entered talks with senior militia leaders implicated in some of the worst crimes in East Timor last year, but whose return may lead to the repatriation of thousands of refugees.

Groundbreaking talks were held at the border town of Batugade on Tuesday with, among others, Cancio Lopes de Carvalho, former leader of the Mahidi (Life or Death Integration) militia.

The Mahidi was one of the most extreme of the pro-Jakarta militias, linked to the Suai cathedral massacre in which up to 200 people were killed.

"He [de Carvalho] said he was prepared to face the judicial process provided it was fair," said Mr N. Parameswaran, chief of staff to the head of UN operations in East Timor, Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Mr Parameswaran, accompanied by senior East Timorese officials and two senior commanders of the pro-independence Falintil force, met de Carvalho and three other ex-militia leaders who say they fear for their lives and are now negotiating to return. Only the Mahidi leader gave an undertaking that he was prepared to face justice.

The talks centred on the return of thousands of East Timorese refugees under the control of the four men. The three other leaders were de Carvalho's brother, Nemecio Loes de Carvalho, Domingos Periera and Juanico Cesario, a former Baucau-based militia leader.

Last month the four wrote two letters to the UN Security Council requesting protection from former colleagues and Indonesian authorities.

Two weeks of negotiations culminated in Tuesday's border meeting, conducted out of sight of the Indonesian military at the request of the militia leaders.

"He [Cancio Lopes de Carvalho] told me bluntly he wanted reconciliation and repatriation," Mr Parameswaran said. "You know one of our primary [UN] functions here is to promote the return of refugees. There are some 120 or 130,000 refugees still there, and if we can find any ways or means to get them back then we will."

On an earlier visit to East Timor, Cesario had promised to return with 6,000 of his followers.

No date has been set for the repatriation of the militia leaders, although both sides are now involved with internal discussions.

While the rewards are potentially high, the return of any high-profile militia leader is fraught with risk.

The UN's serious crimes unit has lengthy dossiers implicating most of the militia leaders on war crimes charges, including murder, multiple murder, rape, arson and abduction.

Despite support for negotiations with the four militia leaders by independence leaders such as Mr Xanana Gusmao, many East Timorese are still traumatised by last year's violence. Mr Gusmao's support for the reconciliation process is controversial. Many Timorese, particularly in areas worst affected by militia violence, oppose reconciliation without justice.

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