Subject: NYTimes: East Timor's Scourge Serves Time on His Patio

The New Yortk Times May 16, 2001

East Timor's Scourge Serves Time on His Patio


JAKARTA, Indonesia -- A strange red banner hangs over the gate of one of the middle-class villas on a quiet street in central Jakarta: "Am I really a criminal for defending the red and white? -- E. Guterres."

Inside, near a red-and-white Indonesian flag, a group of workmen is building a waterfall and fishpond. Eurico Guterres himself, lounging on the patio, looks on without expression, as he does at most things.

Mr. Guterres, 27, has received a slap on the wrist and he is ostentatiously suffering. The most prominent of the militia leaders who ravaged East Timor when it voted for independence from Indonesia in 1999, he is counting out the final days of a six-month term under house arrest. "Basically, I did what I was asked to," he said bitterly. "But I am at fault. I am to blame, even though I did nothing wrong."

Indeed, according to almost every analyst, he is very much to blame.

"This guy is really bad news," said Sidney Jones, Asia director for Human Rights Watch. "He is singlehandedly responsible for a lot of the worst crimes that took place in East Timor. He's responsible both for directly organizing people to commit savage acts and for being the vehicle through which funds and probably arms were channeled to the militias more generally."

The light sentence he received on a tangential weapons charge only serves to underscore the failure of the Indonesian courts to bring the brutalizers of East Timor to justice.

On the other hand, Mr. Guterres may have some reason to feel aggrieved. No one else -- none of the other East Timorese militia leaders, none of the Indonesian officers who commanded them -- has had to serve even a day in detention.

Many other suspects have been identified, and their abuses documented, by human rights groups and official investigators in both Indonesia and East Timor. They include both East Timorese gangsters and Indonesian military, police and civilian officials. As time passes, the possibility has grown stronger that none of them will ever be tried or punished. "What you've got is such chaos and confusion and incompetence in the justice system on the one hand," Ms. Jones said, "and such determination on the part of the people that don't want to see prosecutions at all, that we are never going to see justice for East Timor."

Former Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono, in an interview, had little to say in defense of Indonesian justice. "The court system is in a shambles," he said. In addition, President Abdurrahman Wahid is too engrossed in his own problems of political survival to push the issue and too dependent on political support from the military to challenge it.

In April Mr. Wahid signed a decree setting a time limit on prosecutions that could close the door on future trials for many accused of wrongdoing, including Mr. Guterres.

The broad picture of their crimes is well documented.

The Timorese militias were organized, supplied and commanded by the Indonesian military in an attempt to derail the vote for independence, which was conducted by the United Nations. When East Timor voted, by nearly 80 percent, to break from 24 years of Indonesian rule, the militias were unleashed on a punitive campaign of destruction.

More than 1,000 people were killed, about 70 percent of East Timor's buildings were destroyed and more than one-fourth of the population of 800,000 was forced into militia-controlled camps in the Indonesian territory of West Timor.

An estimated 50,000 people remain in those camps today and militia fighters continue to cross the border into East Timor, attacking United Nations peacekeepers and civilians.

Desperate to avert the creation of an international tribunal, Indonesia promised to conduct its own trials. The government formally agreed to share information with the new East Timorese administration and to provide witnesses and defendants for separate trials there.

So far, both East Timorese and United Nations officials say, none of those promises have been kept.

"It's been a farce all along," said one United Nations official in Jakarta, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It's been deeply disappointing, but I guess not surprising, given the political climate here."

As in East Timor in 1999, when Indonesia vowed to maintain security as it unleashed the militias, officials here have employed promises and delaying tactics to keep the United Nations at bay. "They have been experts at pretending to walk one step forward and in fact walking two steps backward," the United Nations official said. "It's like moonwalking -- like Michael Jackson looks like he's walking forward but in fact he's walking backward."

No matter how exasperated United Nations officials may be, experts say the politics of their own organization makes it unlikely that a special international tribunal -- like those trying cases from Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia -- will be created for East Timor.

"They've been playing for time and they've won," said a Western diplomat. "They've been playing the world for a fool and they've won."

Last week, in a high-profile case involving violence in the West Timor camps, a Jakarta court sentenced six militia members to terms of no more than 20 months for the murders of three United Nations workers last September.

This case apparently proceeded, unlike others, because the victims were foreign United Nations employees. But the Indonesian prosecutors did not seem to have their hearts in the case, declining to charge the men with murder or manslaughter even though some of them admitted to stabbing the victims.

"The sentences make a mockery of the international community's insistence that justice be done in this horrific case," the United Nations high commissioner for refugees said in a statement.

Mockery, of course, can be in the eye of the beholder.

Mr. Guterres said house arrest had offered him the creative space to record an album of patriotic songs, the first of which he titled, "East Timor's Tragedy."

He declined to sing for an interviewer, but he offered a little speech describing the contents of the song. The tragedy of East Timor, as he portrayed it, boils down to the persecution of Eurico Guterres.

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