Subject: Editorial: Seeking the truth / Panel hopes to bring stability to East Timor

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Wednesday January 30, 2002

Editorial: Seeking the truth / Panel hopes to bring stability to East Timor

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

A truth and reconciliation commission has finally been installed in East Timor. We hope that means the soon-to-be fully independent territory is on the road to stability.

The seven-member body will investigate the mayhem committed between 1975, when Indonesia invaded after Portuguese colonial rule had collapsed, and 1999, when Indonesian occupation ended. The area was thrown into turmoil when the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia. The outcome prompted pro-Indonesian militias to run amok, killing hundreds and destroying much of East Timor's infrastructure before a U.N. peacekeeping force arrived.

That uprising sent about 260,000 of the 800,000 East Timorese to West Timor -- which remains an Indonesian territory -- and many were forced across the border at gunpoint. There's still a refugee crisis in West Timor, where about 100,000 people live in filthy camps. The Indonesian government either can't or won't gain control of armed militias that intimidate refugees and keep them from returning to East Timor.

This is the kind of behavior that the truth and reconciliation commission is committed to investigating. The commission has the authority to conduct inquiries, but it must give evidence it finds to the courts. The courts also must handle serious crimes such as rape and murder. But the commission can address those involving arson, harassment and property and livestock destruction, for instance.

The commission will be in place for only two years, but it will accomplish much if it is nearly as good as a similar truth and reconciliation commission was in South Africa. It is imperative to uncover details of the atrocities committed against the people of East Timor, which is under the control of the U.N. transitional administration.

That information will be important for East Timor's new government, which becomes formally independent May 20.

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