Subject: AP: East Timor victims say only international tribunal will bring justice

East Timor victims say only international tribunal will bring justice

July 30, 2005 8:24pm

Associated Press WorldStream

DILI, East Timor_Domingas Casimira has spent the last six years trying to find justice for her husband and brother, gunned down in the Indonesian military's drive against East Timor's independence. But like others who suffered in the rampage that left 1,500 dead, she is starting to lose hope _ and not without reason.

Indonesia and East Timor have rejected a U.N. committee's recommendation for an international tribunal to investigate the abuses and instead created a joint truth and reconciliation commission that starts work Monday. But few expect the investigation by the two countries to be anything but a whitewash.

"This is a device to bury the past, not to find justice," said Brad Adams, Asia director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch. "The Indonesian military has no incentive to tell the truth ... they know they will never be extradited to East Timor or prosecuted in Indonesia if they don't."

Indonesia invaded and occupied the tiny half-island territory in 1975 ending three centuries of Portuguese colonial rule.

When East Timor voted overwhelming for independence almost 25 years later, elements of the Indonesian military and its militia proxies punished the island's people through a campaign of killing, looting and burning that ended only when Australian-led peacekeepers stepped in.

Though Jakarta agreed under intense international pressure to an ad hoc tribunal for 18 men suspected in the violence, most of them military and police, all but one were eventually acquitted. That suspect, a Timorese militia leader, is free on appeal.

"It was a sham," said Casimira, 33, who says Jakarta-backed militias kidnapped her 29-year-old brother Paulino Lopeswas from his home in the village of Memo on Aug. 25, 1999, and killed him. Two weeks later, she said, Indonesian soldiers murdered her husband, Jaime de Antas, 43.

She presented all the information she had about the deaths to a special crimes investigation unit, she said, but the evidence was ignored.

"The only thing the Indonesian government wants is to protect former high ranking police and military," she added.

A United Nations commission of experts has recommenced that those accused of violence be retried and, if found responsible, punished within six months.

If that doesn't happen, it wants Indonesia to submit to an international tribunal in a third country _ as was done for Rwanda and former Yugoslavia.

But Indonesia and East Timor say they don't want that, and will instead hold a joint Truth and Friendship Commission that focuses on reconciliation. The panel will consist of legal experts from the two countries who will be able to summon witnesses. It is not designed to recommend prosecutions.

In rejecting an international tribunal, the government of East Timor made clear it doesn't wants to jeopardize its burgeoning relations with its giant neighbor.

"We want to address the past without endangering our future relations," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yuri Thamrin.

But Adams, of Human Rights Watch, said "it is concerned about being the mouse stepped on by a neighboring elephant."

Asmara Nababan, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies, agreed that fear of Indonesia is the main motivation for the East Timorese government to back the joint commission.

"East Timor knows how brutal the Indonesian military can be," he said. "Indonesia can use all means to destabilize or occupy East Timor as they did for 24 years."

But Maria Afonso de Jesus, whose husband was among dozens killed when pro-Jakarta militias stormed a church sheltering terrified refugees in April 1999, says she has no confidence in the joint commission.

She, too, sees an international court as the only answer.

"The only point of the commission is to enhance the relationship between the two countries, while our fate is forgotten," said the 30-year-old finance officer. "It has nothing to do with the victims."

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