Subject: AFP: Tavares  says he's prepared to be tried, but not yet

Agence France Presse

July 23, 2002 Tuesday

Former militia boss says he's prepared to be tried, but not yet

JAKARTA, July 23

The exiled former commander of militias in East Timor said Tuesday he and his followers are prepared to face justice after they return home, but only following a period of readjustment.

"If we come home en masse and are immediately arrested, who's going to want to return to East Timor? That has to be discussed first and then the return of thousands of people can become reality," Joao da Silva Tavares said, according to the state news agency Antara in a report from Atambua in Indonesian West Timor.

Tavares, who led an umbrella group of Indonesian-supported armed gangs in East Timor, is negotiating with authorities in newly-independent East Timor to return home with what he says are thousands of his followers.

"I am also ready to be processed (in a court) if that is the desire of various related parties there, but not immediately the moment we arrive in East Timor, " said Tavares, who commanded the Integration Fighters' Force (PPI).

Since June Tavares has had three meetings with East Timorese authorities to discuss his return. He first asked that all the refugees be allowed to stay in a large transit camp just inside the border. Then he modified his request and asked for transit camps in each of East Timor's 13 districts.

"Later in the third meeting we no longer demanded all sorts of things, only that they show some attention to the matter," he said, referring to his wish for a delay in the arrest of alleged human rights violators.

Tavares said he hopes a follow-up meeting can be held soon.

East Timor's Attorney General Longuinhos Monteiro has warned that those who were responsible for the violence in 1999 and throughout Indonesia's 24-year rule of East Timor would eventually face justice.

court," Monteiro has said.

Indonesia's militia proxies waged a campaign of murder and intimidation ahead of East Timor's August 1999 vote to separate from Indonesia, which invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975.

After the vote the militia campaign, backed by Indonesian security forces, escalated to a scorched-earth policy of looting, arson and murder. More than 250,000 people either fled or were forced into West Timor.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says fewer than 50,000 refugees are still in Indonesia, of whom 30,000-35,000 are expected to choose to return.

Most of those remaining in the camps are former soldiers, police, civil servants or militia and their followers.

Tavares has so far avoided punishment and is not one of the 18 people facing charges in Jakarta for gross human rights violations in East Timor.

Although Tavares headed the PPI, his deputy, Eurico Guterres, handled the day-to-day running of the militias. Guterres is on trial in Jakarta.

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