Subject: Age: UN gives cautious support to Indonesian court

Received from Joyo Indonesian News

The Age Saturday 19 January 2002

UN gives cautious support to Indonesian court


A special court to judge suspects accused of crimes in East Timor in 1999 should be given a chance, the chairman of the United Nation's Human Rights Commission said on the eve of his visit to Jakarta.

But ambassador Leandro Despouy warned that if national trials failed, the UN could set up an international court.

Mr Despouy said the hope that parallel trials in Dili and Jakarta could bring justice to families of the victims had not been exhausted.

"We must first trust in national mechanisms. Later, we might have to think of an international solution," he said.

During the 1999 violence, militia gangs acting with the Indonesian army killed more than 1000 people, burnt down towns and forcibly deported around 250,000 people to West Timor.

The ambassador arrives in Jakarta today from Timor at the invitation of the Indonesian Government.

He said he expected to meet senior government officials to discuss prosecutions of those involved in the Timor violence, and to be briefed on the workings of a newly established special court.

Earlier this week, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri approved the names of12 judges to hear charges against 18 people - including three army generals and a police general - accused of major human rights violations committed in East Timor in 1999.

A 1999 UN Security Council resolution determined those responsible for violence in the wake of East Timor's August 30 referendum should be tried, but the world body did not take up a recommendation by a human rights investigation team that an international court should hear the cases.

It opted instead for a two-track process of trials in East Timor and Indonesia, with Jakarta promising to try its own offenders.

During his five-day visit to Timor, Mr Despouy heard testimony from victims in the towns of Maliana and Balibo.

He told them that as an Argentinian who was exiled from his country, he had direct knowledge of repression and disappearances.

He listened quietly to dramatic evidence from villagers and at one point embraced a sobbing woman when she broke down while giving testimony.

Many relatives of victims told him they had no faith in Indonesian promises to bring offenders to trial, and some even said they would take justice into their own hands unless the UN acted soon.

Placido dos Santos, of Cailaco, near Maliana, demanded to know why victims' families were not being informed on the progress of prosecutions. "We know the perpetrators, and have given their names," he said.

"Some of these people are in Indonesia, others are walking free in Dili today."

After listening to hours of testimony, the ambassador urged the families to trust in the UN's commitment to bring the guilty to justice, and promised to transmit their concerns to Secretary-General Kofi Annan and to Indonesian authorities.

He said later the testimony was "very painful to hear".

He said it was obvious the border region had been hard-hit by the 1999 violence and that it could be an area of future tension if local people felt justice had not been done.

One issue Mr Despouy is likely to raise in Jakarta is the question of arrest warrants issued by prosecutors in Timor for Indonesian citizens during trials already held here.

Under an April, 2000 agreement between the Indonesian Government and the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor, Jakarta has a commitment to hand over suspects, but so far has not responded to a single case, or to requests to interview people in the presence of UN officials.

Meanwhile, administrator Sergio Vieira de Mello has named seven East Timorese to serve as commissioners on a South African-style truth and reconciliation commission.

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