Subject: KY: Trial of former E. Timor military commander opens

Kyodo News Service
July 16, 2002 Tuesday

Trial of former E. Timor military commander opens
Christine T. Tjandraningsih

JAKARTA, July 16

The trial of a former East Timor military commander accused of involvement in human rights abuses in East Timor in 1999, the year its people voted overwhelmingly for independence, opened Tuesday in a Jakarta court.

Maj. Gen. Tono Suratman, 49, who was at the time Wira Dharma provincial military commander, faces a life sentence if found guilty.

In a nine-page indictment, state prosecutors told the Ad Hoc Human Rights Tribunal that the defendant, as a military commander, 'knew...that his men, who were under his command, had conducted...gross human rights violations by making widespread, systematic attacks against civilians.'

'The defendant, however, failed to take appropriate and necessary his men, along with pro-Jakarta militia groups, attacked pro-independence groups or civilians,' the indictment said.

The prosecutors, led by Simangunsong, cited an incident in the town of Batublete in eastern East Timor on April 5, 1999, when the militiamen, backed by military soldiers and police, attacked pro-independence supporters, killing two of them.

Those who escaped the attack then sought protection at the residence of a Catholic priest, Rafael dos Santos, in a church in the town of Liquica.

According to the prosecutors, the militiamen, backed by 100 soldiers and policemen, chased after them and surrounded the priest's residence.

The next day, the militiamen attacked the pro-independence supporters during negotiations between dos Santos and the soldiers, who urged the priest to hand over two pro-independence leaders hiding inside the house.

In a separate incident on April 17, 1999, the militiamen, backed by a number of soldiers, attacked the house of pro-independence leader Manuel Viegas Carrascalao, where about 136 refugees were sheltering.

The attack claimed the lives of 12 pro-independence supporters, including Carrascalao's son Mario.

'The defendant failed to prevent and stop the acts or hand over the killers to the authorities,' the indictment said. 'The defendant's acts have violated human rights.'

Militia groups armed and supported by the Indonesian military in April 1999 began escalating their acts of violence and intimidation against pro-independence East Timorese in the run-up to the U.N.-sponsored independence referendum held in August of that year.

After the result of the vote was announced Sept. 4 that year, the military and the militia groups launched a campaign of violence in which hundreds of people were killed, hundreds of thousands more forcibly displaced and 70% of the buildings and houses in the former Portuguese colony destroyed.

East Timor became fully independent on May 20 this year.

The United States suspended its military assistance to Indonesia in September 1999 in the wake of the militia violence in East Timor that some elements of the Indonesian military supported.

The U.S. Congress has enacted legislation that prohibits making available military equipment for training to Indonesia until its government prosecutes members of the Indonesian Defense Force and militias responsible for human rights violations in East Timor.

Besides Tono, the special human rights tribunal has since February been trying 17 people, including former East Timor Gov. Abilio Jose Osorio Soares, former police chief Gen. Timbul Silaen and former East Timorese militia leader Eurico Guterres, for gross human rights violations.


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