Subject: IN: Timorese bishop rejects freedom fighter's call to forgive the guilty

The Independent

Timorese bishop rejects freedom fighter's call to forgive the guilty

By Richard Lloyd Parry, Asia Correspondent

30 August 2001

Two years to the day after the 1999 referendum on independence, the East Timorese people vote again on Thursday in the first elections to a democratic national assembly.

In that time, after the murderous violence that marked the end of Indonesia's occupation of East Timor, 1,000 United Nations administrators and 9,000 peace-keeping troops have helped the infant nation to make faltering steps towards recovery.

But the quest for justice is slow and there are sharp differences between East Timor's spiritual leader and its presidential candidate and former guerrilla commander on how to move forward. One is pressing for amnesty and forgiveness, the other believes sternly in prosecution and punishment.

But the positions of Bishop Carlos Belo and Jose "Xanana" Gusmao are exactly the opposite of what you would expect.

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Dili, winner of the Nobel peace prize, is the one impatiently pressing for the forces of justice to be used against a shadowy cabal of local militiamen, Indonesian soldiers and high-level commanders behind the violence. Mr Gusmao, the former freedom fighter and almost certainly the future president of East Timor, is calling for them to be forgiven. In the outcome of their debate a great deal lies at stake.

Thursday's elections are the latest stage in a process of political development expected to culminate in a declaration of full independence next year. Schools and hospitals have been rebuilt and reopened. A civil service, a police force and a national army have been established. Judges have been appointed, courts have been established and cases are being heard. But on the question of justice for the victims of the violence before independence, very little progress has been made.

Bishop Belo wrote in an article this week in the Sydney Morning Herald: "Up to 3,000 died in 1999, untold numbers of women were raped and 500,000 persons displaced ­ 100,000 are yet to return. Those events live on in the minds of Timorese despite the apparent material progress of the past two years ... Justice for the people of East Timor requires that the perpetrators of the most serious crimes be identified and prosecuted in the same manner as a common criminal."

The process is not at a complete standstill, but it is looking less and less likely that those who gave the orders to devastate East Timor will ever be brought to justice.

Last month a special court in Dili began to hear charges against 11 former members of an East Timorese militia for murders committed before and after the referendum. But these are small fry. The militias were organised, armed and directed by Indonesian army officers who all escaped back across the border after Jakarta finally agreed to admit international peace-keepers.

Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, has repeatedly called upon Jakarta to bring them to justice in its own courts ­ if this does not happen he has promised to establish an international tribunal to hear the cases. In East Timor there is little faith that either possibility will bear fruit.

Three reports ­ two commissioned by the UN, and one by an Indonesian human rights commission ­ have pointed the finger at a named group of powerful former generals and intelligence officers, including General Wiranto, who at the time was commander of the Indonesian armed forces.

One of the first acts of Megawati Sukarnoputri, who became Indonesia's President last month, was to broaden the scope of a special court to try those behind the 1999 violence. But the laws governing such a court are riddled with loopholes and there is general scepticism that prosecutions would successfully make it through Indonesia's notoriously corrupt courts.

Bishop Belo, in common with many Timorese, demands an international tribunal for "crimes [which] are not only against the people of East Timor but against the international community". But despite the precedents set in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, to muster the political will for an East Timor war crimes tribunal in the UN Security Council would be a struggle.

The final nail in the coffin may well be the attitude of Mr Gusmao, universally known by his nom de guerre, Xanana. "I will not oppose [an international tribunal], but I will not push for one myself because I am not a human rights activist. I am not a judge. I'm not an attorney general."

Without the active support of the head of state, a tribunal is out of the question. Mr Gusmao will be content, but many of his countrymen, including Bishop Belo and thousands of unquiet ghosts, will not be.


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