|Subject: AP: E. Timor Leaders Ask
Pro-Indonesia Militia Chief To Return
Received from Joyo Indonesian News
E. Timor Leaders Ask Pro-Indonesia Militia Chief To Return
DILI, East Timor, June 14 (AP)--East Timorese and U.N. officials traveled to neighboring Indonesian West Timor on Friday to persuade a senior militia leader and his thousands of followers to return home.
Members of East Timor's truth and reconciliation commission met with pro-Jakarta militia leader Joao Tavares in the West Timorese border town of Attambua, a U.N. official said.
East Timor became the world's newest nation on May 20 and its people are trying to come to terms with atrocities committed during their long struggle for nationhood.
Tavares is accused of helping lead a bloody rampage in East Timor after it voted for independence from Indonesia in a U.N.-sponsored ballot in 1999. Afterward, Tavares fled to West Timor.
East Timor's President Xanana Gusmao has said reconciliation with former militiamen and encouraging their return home is essential for the country's stability and progress.
The talks in Attambua were expected to last until late Friday. Two representatives from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees were also present.
"Tavares represents many thousands of refugees," said UNHCR spokesman Jake Morland in the East Timorese capital, Dili.
"If we can get him to give his followers the green light to return, we will be taking a huge step toward the reconciliation of this nation."
Militiamen and sections of the Indonesian military killed up to 1,000 people and destroyed much of East Timor after its vote for independence. The killings only stopped when international peacekeepers arrived.
Around 250,000 people fled or were forced into East Timor by the militiamen. Up to 50,000 remain, many of whom are linked with militia gangs.
Tavares was overall militia commander in East Timor before and during the independence ballot. He still has around 8,000 men under him, the U.N. estimates.
Since East Timor became independent, Tavares has signaled his willingness to return to East Timor if he is granted amnesty by the government.
East Timorese legislators are currently debating a proposed law that grants amnesty for militiamen convicted of minor crimes.
Tavares won't likely qualify for amnesty under the proposed legislation. However, the government hopes the law could encourage his followers to return home.
Several suspects have been tried and convicted in East Timor for their roles in the post-referendum violence. In Jakarta, the trials of 25 Indonesian military and police officers are underway or will soon begin.
Radio Australia June 13, 2002
East Timor: Fears militia leader's return could spark violence
There are fears that violence could once again return to East Timor, after the announcement by former militia leader Joao Tavares that he intends to return home with some 3,000 followers. The refugee body, the UNHCR, has confirmed it will facilitate a meeting on Friday between Tavares and East Timorese authorities who have previously talked about the possibility of an amnesty. But, some are predicting a return to chaos should the militia leader be allowed to return with his followers.
Presenter/Interviewer: Fernando de Freitas, Darwin
Speakers: Jake Morland, spokesperson UNHCR; Dr Jorge Teme, East Timor's vice mininster for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation; Aderito de Jesus Soares, constitutional lawyer and former member of East Timor's Legislative Assembly
MORLAND: Joao Tavares has asked to meet with members from 'serious crimes,' including the prosecutor general and also representatives of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This is obviously so that they can discuss justice issues, they can discuss possible amnesties, it's shaping up to be a landmark meeting in that this is a group who in the past has not really been all that keen to discuss their repatriation to East Timor.
DE FREITAS: Jake Morland, spokesperson for the UN refugee body, UNHCR, which is facilitating a crucial meeting in the border town of Atambua in West Timor. It's said to pave the way for Joao Tavares, considered a prominent former pro-Jakarta militia chief to return to East Timor, along with some 3,000 of his followers.
There are still over 50,000 East Timorese in deteriorating camps in West Timor and the situation is getting urgent with the Indonesian government cutting off its support and the UN High Commissioner announcing the likely cessation of refugee status by the end of the year.
Joao Tavares has previously said he would only return if granted a complete amnesty, but this is unlikely, according to Jake Morland.
MORLAND: Yes it's possible that there will be some sort of an amnesty, but not an amnesty that will cover the serious crimes that perhaps some of the militia would like to be covered. So if they go into this meeting looking for a full amnesty I fear they may be disappointed.
DE FREITAS: Leaders like Xanana Gusmao and Jose Ramos Horta have floated the possibility of an amnesty, but after fierce debate in the new parliament the official position is clear. Dr Jorge Teme is Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs.
TEME: In principle we receive everybody, including the pro-Jakarta militias. If they are intending to come home, to return to East Timor they are welcome, but of course everybody should stand in front of the law. If any of the refugees who are involved in the atrocity in 1999 rampage then he or she has to face the court.
DE FREITAS: Anything less would simply be unacceptable to most members in government and the overwhelming majority of East Timorese. That's the position of constitutional lawyer and former member of government, Aderito de Jesus Soares. He says the return of Tavares, with such a large number of followers could lead to violence.
SOARES: If you're talking about the number like 3,000 ex-former militia, former militia then of course it will create instability on the ground here. The mechanism with the system itself is not really well developed yet, as you see in East Timor now. I think if that is not ready yet I think you know suddenly 3,000 people ex-militia came back I think it would totally create another instability. I think some people of course on the ground maybe would take armed measures.
DE FREITAS: So there could be violence on the ground in East Timor?
SOARES: Yes, I think if you know talking about the number I think it could create violence on the ground.
MORLAND: It's a possibility but you know there's a true spirit of reconciliation in this country, we've seen it with the return of 209-thousand refugees, many of those with pretty nasty stories to tell about their involvement in 1999. And yet they've been reintegrated and accepted back into their communities. But that's not to say that there is not still a desire on the part of the victims for justice. So we need to encourage the authorities to get on with the judicial system and make sure that it deals with these people rather than the communities taking the justice into their own hands.
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