Subject: SCMP: East Timor: Truth quest starts with families who killed their own

South China Morning Post May 16, 2002

Truth quest starts with families who killed their own


Nearly 20 years ago, the remote East Timor community of Muapitine was shaken by a string of killings. The victims were clandestine resistance workers and their own relatives joined in the killing.

Now this drama is about to be replayed. This case has been chosen as one of the first "truth-seeking" exercises for East Timor's new truth and reconciliation commission. Taking of statements could begin this month.

It is likely to be a painful exercise for the people of Muapitine, just a matter of days after East Timor becomes Asia's newest nation at the stroke of midnight on Monday.

Commission head Aniceto Guterres says the case was chosen because it is specific. The relatives who carried out these extra-judicial killings in 1982-3 worked in tandem with the Indonesian military [TNI]. But in fact, they were coerced. Had they not joined in the killings, they might themselves have been killed.

"The TNI killed with the family, but they were forced by the military to kill," said Mr Guterres.

Muapitine illustrates the kind of tangled problems the commission will try to resolve. The commission's task is not to act as a court, but to determine who was responsible and how and why an incident happened.

It can also issue recommendations to the government, such as recommending extradition. It has authority to examine all events from the Portuguese revolution in 1974 to the arrival of the international force after the bloodshed following 1999's independence vote. And although mentioned in the constitution, it is independent of the government.

According to Mr Guterres, the number of extra-judicial killings in this case is quite small, around "five or six". But people involved on both sides are still living there. Did the relatives commit any crime? That is clearly a hard thing to determine. If they truly were coerced, legally speaking the soldiers who coerced them should answer for it, Mr Guterres says.

The second case involves the mass deportations of thousands of people to the offshore island of Atauro in the 1980s. Atauro was used as a prison by both Portugal and Indonesia.

In the 1980s, between 3,000 and 4,000 opponents of the Indonesian regime were taken there and left with inadequate food.

The commission will also be inviting people who have committed a crime to come forward. But unlike its South African predecessor, this commission is not offering amnesties for serious crimes. In fact, it has no power to give amnesties at all. Serious crimes will still have to go through the courts.

The commission has already come under fire for dragging its feet. Some people fear outbreaks of "mob justice" if it does not speed up its work and if the legal system fails to provide a modicum of justice.

Mr Guterres says its two-year mandate will not be long enough.

Under current legislation that period can be extended by a further six months, but in reality at least three years will be needed, he said.

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