|Subject: Indonesia-Timor truth commission
holds 1st meeting
Indonesia-Timor truth commission holds 1st meeting Thu Aug 4, 2005 4:27 AM ET
BALI, Indonesia (Reuters) - A truth commission set up by Indonesia and East Timor began work on Thursday, seeking to deflect growing calls for an international tribunal to probe the tiny territory's bloody independence vote in 1999.
The United Nations estimates about 1,000 East Timorese were slaughtered by pro-Jakarta militias when the former Portuguese colony overwhelmingly voted for independence. The militias, backed by elements in the Indonesian army, also destroyed most of East Timor's infrastructure.
Members of the Truth and Friendship Commission, which critics say is an attempt to evade pressure to punish those guilty of abuses, made few comments to reporters as they went into their first meeting on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.
Indonesia's Foreign Ministry has said the commission would "try to heal the wounds" and unveil "the factual truth over the causes" of the violence.
The commission is expected to produce a report at the end of one year. It is not clear if anyone who feels guilt over the bloodshed can use the commission, which has no power to punish anyone, as a forum to seek forgiveness.
Indonesia has brushed off recent recommendations from a U.N. panel that an international tribunal intervene if Jakarta did not account properly for the violence. East Timor also opposes the idea, saying it could hurt ties with its giant neighbor.
That panel, appointed by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, said in June that Indonesian officials and militiamen should be tried by an international tribunal if Jakarta did not agree to prosecute them under foreign supervision within six months. "The commission is just a shield against what the U.N. secretary general has done through the panel ... and it won't result in what people want, which is justice," said Johnson Pandjaitan, head of the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association.
An Indonesian special human rights court set up under international pressure convicted six of 18 Indonesian military and police officers and others charged in connection with the violence. Five convictions were later overturned and an appeal of the sixth is pending.
The U.N. panel labeled Jakarta's prosecution of the suspects as "manifestly deficient."
Indonesian generals accused of abuses had nothing to fear from the truth and friendship commission, said Pandjaitan.
"As long as there is no international tribunal, they will still enjoy impunity," he said.
The commission consists of five delegates each and will have a secretariat on Bali, where meetings will take place, said Thamrin. Bali lies midway between Jakarta and East Timor.
East Timor President Xanana Gusmao, a former rebel leader who was once jailed in Jakarta, has said he hoped the truth commission would satisfy the international community that justice was being sought.
Mainly Catholic East Timor became fully independent in May 2002 after two-and-a-half years of U.N. administration that followed 24 years of brutal Indonesian occupation.
Associated Press Worldstream
August 4, 2005 Thursday 5:21 AM Eastern Time
Truth commission investigating 1999 East Timor violence meets for first time
A truth commission tasked with investigating violence carried out by Indonesian security forces during East Timor's break for independence was meeting Thursday for the first time, officials said.
The "Truth and Friendship Commission" is largely toothless, with no power to prosecute. But the governments of East Timor and Indonesia have lauded it as a way to heal past wounds without jeopardizing future relations.
The 10 panelists - five from each country - said they would focus on technicalities when they meet later Thursday on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, creating an operating framework and selecting supporting team members.
"We will wait to name the commission's co-chairmen until we meet again," said Ret. Army Lt. Gen. Agus Widjojo.
Nearly 1,500 people died when Indonesian military and their proxy militias went on a killing, looting and burning spree in 1999 after East Timorese voted overwhelmingly to end nearly 25 years of Indonesian occupation.
Though Jakarta agreed under intense international pressure to try 18 men implicated in the violence, most of them military and police, 17 were eventually acquitted. The other, a Timorese militia leader, is free on appeal.
The United Nations says it wants the accused to be retried and, if convicted, punished within six months. If that doesn't happen, the world body wants Indonesia to submit to an international tribunal, like the ones held for Rwanda and former Yugoslavia.
But that is looking less and less likely. Indonesia and East Timor have rejected the idea, infuriating human rights groups and victims of the bloodshed.
"The Truth and Friendship Commission is useless," said Johnson Panjaitan, an attorney for victims of the 1999 violence. "People who lost family members, brothers and sisters will never find justice this way."