Subject: JP: Court rejects refugees demands for damages

The Jakarta Post June 5, 2002

Court rejects refugees demands of Rp 1t in Timor damages

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The Central Jakarta District Court rejected on Tuesday the request by a group of East Timorese refugees demanding former president BJ Habibie to pay Rp 1 trillion (US$115.6 million) in compensation for losses incurred following East Timor's 1999 vote for independence.

The court also declined to declare Habibie or president Megawati Soekarnoputri in violation of any laws which may have caused suffering to the refugees, most of whom are pro-integration militia members who have chosen to stay on in Indonesia.

The verdict stated there was no evidence that the accused had violated the refugees in the class action suit filed by several East Timorese people, including former East Timorese militia leader Eurico Guterres and east Timorese lawyer Nicolay A.B.

They claimed that they were representing about 280,000 refugees, most of whom were forced into Indonesia during the scorched earth revenge campaign following the vote in August 1999.

"Habibie could not be sued for this case as he decided to conduct the vote in his capacity as a public official. He had also presented his accountability speech before the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) in 1999 before losing in the presidential election," presiding judge Andi Samsan Nganro said.

However, the court ordered the government to accommodate the East Timorese refugees, who opted to stay here instead of going back to East Timor.

The ruling also said the government should grant the refugees their rights as Indonesian citizens, including the right for a proper place to live and a proper life.

"It's the government's obligation to provide the refugees with their rights as citizens by giving legal protection and legal certainty of their residential statues as they deserve to have a good and healthy social life," Judge Andi said.

The verdict is in accordance with the MPR decree No. 5/1999 which requires the government to be responsible for any possible consequences following the 1999 vote.

The government has attempted to relocate the refugees who are in several areas in the country. A few months ago, it halted assistance to the refugees in a bid to encourage them to make a decision -- either to leave or become Indonesian citizens

Lawyer Esther Daturante, who represented the government, asked for a two-week period to consider the appeal.

The refugees' lawyer, Suhardi Somomoeljono, said they would consider the accused's decision first before making a possible appeal.

The United Nations reported in May that some 52,000 of the 250,000 refugees are still in West Timor.

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