Subject: SCMP: East Timor Militia Chief Challenges Court's Authority

South China Morning Post Wednesday, January 3, 2001


Militia chief challenges court's authority


Photo: Strength in numbers: followers of East Timor militia chief Eurico Guterres demonstrate support for their hero ahead of his trial at North Jakarta District Court. Associated Press photo

Lawyers for feared East Timor militia chief Eurico Guterres launched a fresh legal challenge to incitement charges levelled against him yesterday as his trial got under way.

Flanked by dozens of cheering supporters including East Timor war veterans, Guterres, 26, sported sunglasses, a beret, military fatigues and a bandana in the red and white colours of the Indonesian national flag for his hearing at the North Jakarta District Court.

His supporters held up banners reading "Eurico is a hero of integration" and "Eurico defends the Red and White" as their hero arrived from Jakarta's Salemba prison.

Guterres is charged with inciting his supporters not to hand over arms during a weapons handover ceremony on September 24, attended by Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

It occurred amid mass international pressure on Jakarta to rein in the militias, three weeks after an East Timorese militia mob killed three foreign UN workers in the border town of Atambua. The killings provoked international outrage and the withdrawal of foreign aid from the western half of the island.

Asked by chief judge Suwardi if he understood the charges, Guterres replied: "I understand, but also I do not understand."

Chief defence lawyer Suhardi Somomoeljono immediately lodged a challenge to the proceedings, arguing the Jakarta court did not have the authority to try the case and the charges were not clear enough. The case was adjourned for a week for the objections to be considered.

Guterres headed the Aitarak (Thorn) militia responsible for much of the destruction of the East Timorese capital, Dili, in 1999. He has been implicated by UN investigators in human rights abuses in the former Portuguese colony and faces separate questioning next month by the Attorney-General's Office over one of two April 1999 massacres in Dili ahead of the territory's overwhelming August 1999 vote for independence.

After the brief hearing, Guterres' supporters hoisted him onto a table in the courtroom. "I feel proud because I have been arrested, detained and tried today for defending the red and white flag . . . I regret absolutely nothing," Guterres told them.

His lawyer said Guterres was depressed. "He is very worried and sad because he feels he is a struggler for the red and white in East Timor. He is very sad," said Mr Suhardi.

It is the second time Guterres has been arrested. He was detained in Kupang, West Timor, for illegal possession of a weapon a few months ago, but was not prosecuted.

According to court documents, the September 24 violence occurred after Guterres told his supporters to reclaim weapons they had just handed over.

Guterres was speaking to the police chief of West Timor's Belu district while the handover ceremony was taking place in Ms Megawati's presence. On emerging to find that he had missed it, the court papers say, he was offended and believed that, as the former deputy commander of the combined East Timor militias, he should have been present.

"What scenario is this?" he declared, before telling his supporters: "Take the weapons." They grabbed 15 of the 19 weapons that had just been handed over, prompting chaos, the official account said.

Guterres - who is a member of Ms Megawati's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle - was arrested in Jakarta in October.

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