Subject: NYT: Indonesia Court Voids 4 Convictions in 1999 East Timor Strife

Indonesia Court Voids 4 Convictions in 1999 East Timor Strife By EVELYN RUSLI

Published: August 7, 2004

JAKARTA, Indonesia, Aug. 6 — An Indonesian appeals court has overturned the convictions of three army officers and one policeman for crimes against humanity during violence in 1999 over East Timor's independence that left some 1,500 people dead.

The court has also reduced to 5 years from 10 years the prison sentence of Eurico Guterres, who led paramilitary gangs recruited by the Indonesian Army to suppress East Timor's independence movement. Mr. Guterres was convicted in 2002 but had been free pending the outcome of the appeal, as had the army and police officers.

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The decisions, delivered two weeks ago but released only on Friday, may mark the end of legal processes against 18 people in all — 16 security officers and 2 civilians — indicted by an Indonesian human rights tribunal on East Timor.

Prosecutors may appeal the decisions to the Supreme Court, but they made no indication on Friday whether they would. Mr. Guterres may also appeal to further shorten his term.

In all, four sentences have been overturned and one reduced. Twelve others were were acquitted. Only one person — East Timor's former governor, Abílio José Soares — is serving a prison sentence, a three-year term that started last month.

The massacres that occurred in 1999 have been well documented by human rights groups and official investigators in both Indonesia and East Timor. Many more suspects have been identified than tried.

The Indonesian military organized, supplied and commanded Timorese militias to try to derail a vote on independence, which was conducted by the United Nations. But 80 percent of voters chose to break from the 24 years of Indonesian rule, and the militias went on a campaign of death and destruction.

Most of East Timor's buildings were destroyed; some 250,000 people — out of a population of 800,000 — were forced into militia-controlled camps in the Indonesian territory of West Timor.

Under international pressure, Indonesia established a tribunal to try those responsible, but Western diplomats have said the Indonesian government did not seem to take it very seriously.

On Friday, the Indonesian military applauded the appeals court's decision. Col. Ahmad Yani Basuki, a military spokesman, said, "We believe the process was handled professionally."

But the criticism was immediate.

Hendardi, one of Indonesia's leading human rights advocates, called the verdicts "theater," and said the United Nations should establish an independent tribunal.

John M. Miller, a spokesman for the East Timor Action Network, a New York-based advocacy group, said the "whole process has been a farce."

Sam Zarifi, the deputy director of the Asian Department for Human Rights Watch, said: "For the enormity of everything that happened in East Timor, it's just a tragedy that it seems like that there will be no accountability for any of the people responsible."

Mr. Zarifi said the overturned convictions in particular had profound ramifications. "Because all the Indonesians are acquitted and only the convictions of the two ethnic East Timorese stand, Indonesia can perpetuate the fiction that the violence was only East Timorese against East Timorese," Mr. Zarifi said. He took the United Nations to task, saying the tribunal "was created under United Nations Security Council auspices, but now the U.N. has let this whole process fall apart."

Steven L. Pike, a United States State Department spokesman, said the United States was "dismayed" by the appeals court decision and "profoundly disappointed" with the Indonesian process over all.

"With this appeals decision, the court has convicted only 2 of 18 defendants," he said. "Both individuals convicted are ethnic Timorese civilians and received sentences below the 10-year minimum set by law. We believe the overall process was seriously flawed and lacked credibility."

Among those whose convictions were overturned was Maj. Gen. Adam Damiri, the highest-ranking military official to face trial for crimes against humanity in East Timor.

He had been convicted of failing to control subordinates in a September 1999 case in which at least 15 people were killed in a diocesan headquarters in the capital, Dili.

Brig. Gen. M. Noer Muis, an East Timor military commander, had been convicted in the killings of at least a dozen Catholics in the city of Suai.

Lt. Col. Sujarwo, the Dili military commander, was convicted in the attack on the diocesan headquarters.

The former Dili police chief, Col. Hulman Goeltom, was convicted in an attack on the home of a prominent family that sheltered refugees in which at least 12 people were killed in April 1999. Mr. Guterres was also convicted in that case.

For all but Mr. Guterres, the initial sentences were less than half the 10-year minimum prescribed by the tribunal's statutes.


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