Subject: SMH: Howard's stance on East Timor labelled gung-ho

Also Truth and Friendship Commission starts hearings, INDONESIA-EAST TIMOR: TRUTH COMMISSION ON 1999 MASSACRE OPENS

Howard's stance on East Timor labelled gung-ho

Mark Forbes Herald Correspondent in Denpasar

February 20, 2007

AUSTRALIA was overzealous and "gung-ho" towards East Timor, the former Indonesian foreign minister, Ali Alatas, has said at an inquiry aimed at healing the wounds left by the bloody aftermath of Timorese independence.

Mr Alatas told the Commission of Truth and Friendship that he did not blame the Prime Minister, John Howard, for the bloodshed surrounding East Timor's independence vote in 1999. However, he said that a letter from Mr Howard to the then Indonesian president, B.J. Habibie, provoked Indonesia's about-face in holding the referendum.

The letter, which outlined Australia's support for an independence vote, was not the "bone of contention", Mr Alatas said yesterday. "It was rather the spirit of overzealousness of Australia suddenly sending troops and the largest contingent. Sometimes it's a gung-ho attitude."

Mr Alatas, who is now a foreign policy adviser to the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was the commission's first witness. He said he was not aware of evidence the Indonesian military was complicit in the slaughter of East Timorese carried out by local militia.

However, witnesses later gave graphic accounts of military members ordering the murder of Timorese civilians. About 1400 people were killed before and after the independence vote.

The commission was established by Dr Yudhoyono and his Timorese counterpart, Xanana Gusmao, in the hope their nations could move on from the bloody events. Amnesty is being granted to perpetrators if they testify truthfully.

The commission was formed after a United Nations report called for war crimes charges against military and militia leaders. Trials in Indonesia, which have convicted only one militia leader, have been widely criticised.

Mr Gusmao and Dr Habibie are expected to give evidence before the commission. The testimony of Indonesia's former military chief, General Wiranto, is also widely anticipated.

The brief of the commission, which comprises five members each from Indonesia and East Timor, is to promote reconciliation and recommend amnesties and compensation.

It is unclear if it may recommend prosecutions of witnesses judged to have been untruthful.

Emilio Bareto testified how he narrowly escaped death during a massacre of more than 50 civilians seeking refuge in a church on the outskirts of the town of Liquica in April 1999.

Mr Bareto said he saw an Indonesian officer, a member of his family, order local militia to fire on about 2000 people sheltering in the compound. "He was not armed, he was in civilian clothes," Mr Bareto said.

Before being slashed across his head with a machete, Mr Bareto said he saw several people stabbed to death.

Police had earlier secured the roads to the compound to allow pro-Indonesian militia members through, Mr Bareto said.

The commission plans to continue public hearings until June.



Truth and Friendship Commission starts hearings

The commission will investigate atrocities that took place just before East Timor became independent from Indonesia but it will not have the power to prosecute perpetrators. The UN and the local Catholic Church are among the voices of dissent: justice will not be done in this way.

Bali (AsiaNews) ­ Public hearings of a controversial bilateral Truth and Friendship Commission are set to start today in Bali, Indonesia. The commission was set up to investigate atrocities in the period leading to East Timor’s independence from Indonesia. Between 1999 and 2002, local militias backed by the Indonesian army killed around 1,500 Timorese and displaced 250,000.

The commission launched by Jakarta and Dili in March 2005 includes 10 members from both countries, including lawyers, human rights activists, academics and religious leaders.

Former Indonesian foreign minister Ali Alatas, will be the first witness to testify before the commission and in the days to come, another six witnesses will appear, including survivors of violence perpetrated at the time and former members of armed groups. In the first hearings, however, important protagonists of that historic time will not be present, like East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao, former Indonesian president BJ Habibie and the then bishop of Dili Mgr Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo. The three men, who should have appeared as witnesses, pleaded technical or health reasons to justify their absence while expressing the desire to “participate in future hearings”.

The Truth and Friendship Commission is considered by many to be a farce to keep the international community happy while at the same time not allowing human rights matters to wreck the “good relations” between Dili and Jakarta. The commission does not have the power to legally prosecute those found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity but can offer them amnesty. In the past, the Catholic bishop of Dili, Mgr Alberto Ricardo da Silva, had warned that the commission did not enjoy popular consensus. He reiterated the need to set up special and independent courts to try past crimes, as advised by the United Nations. Human rights organizations say the work of the commission will only serve to perpetuate a culture of impunity for serious abuses that accompanied East Timor’s acquisition of independence.

Last Updated: 02/19/2007 12:53



Denpasar, 19 Feb. (AKI) - The former Indonesian foreign minister Ali Alatas was the first witness to appear in front of the Indonesia-East Timor Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF), which convened on the Indonesian island of Bali on Monday. The CTF began operations in August 2005 and aims to establish the truth behind the massacre that occured after East Timor voted for independence on 30 August 1999. About 1,300 people were killed as a result of attacks carried out by civilian militias supported by Indonesian soldiers. The violence came to an end only after a contingent of international troops was deployed by the United Nations.

Refering to background to events that preceeded the massacre, Alatas spoke of his disappointment and opposition to the decision made by the then Indonesian president, BJ Habibie, to concede to East Timor the choice between independence and autonomy via a referendum, even though talks were in progress with Portugal (East Timor's former colonial power) and the United Nations to resolve the problem on the basis on an autonomy.

"The talks on autonomy should have continued; it needed another year or perhaps five years, but they had reached an agreement. I told that to the president. But the moment in which a second option (the referendum) entered the scene, the talks did not have any more sense," said Alatas, adding that he was afraid that the vote would result in clashes.

"I thought that if it was pro-independence instead of pro-autonomy, they would not have accepted the decision (of the referendum) and the struggle would continue," he added.

Ahead of the vote, Indonesia, through the then head of the armed forces, General Wiranto, refused the UN offer to supply troops to guarantee security. Alatas revealed that the situation only changed when Wiranto lead a diplomatic delegation to the East Timorese capital Dili, a few days after the vote.

"Wiranto would have been aware himself of the chaos and after he returned to Jakarta, he changed his position and asked the president to accept the UN offer to send troops," he said.

International organisations for the defence of human rights have accused Wiranto of having organised, or at least condoned the violence in Dili.

Alatas' deposition will be followed by another six people on Monday and Tuesday. Among those will be victims of the violence, a former pro-Jakarta militant and the former Indonesian ambassador to Portugal.

In total, the commission has another five sessions which have to be completed by June.

More than 70 people are expected to testify, including the former rebel leader and current president of East Timor, Xanana Gusmao, the bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo, active in Dili during the struggle for independence and Wiranto. Former president BJ Habibie declined to participate for medical reasons.

The result of the CTF will not lead to new proceedings. The commission is rather to suggest that the respective governments give the amnesty to all those who collaborate with these reconciliation efforts.

According to non-governmental organisations, this will reinforce a culture of impunity that has characterised the search for justice in the past few years.

East Timor, also known today as Timor Leste, was invaded by Indonesia in 1975. In the course of 24 years of occupation, Jakarta used strong measures in an attempt to quell the resilient pro-independence movement.

According to some sources, there were almost 100,000 victims of the conflict. Only one person, a civilian, is currently serving a jail sentence for the crimes committed.

East Timor declared independence in 2002, three year after the referendum that sanctioned the end of Jakarta's occupation and brought in a UN transition government.


Feb-19-07 12:01



East Timor truth commission opens in Indonesia

Monday 19 February 2007 10:24

A special commission established to gather the facts surrounding Indonesia's military rampage in East Timor after it voted for independence in 1999 opened Monday on the resort island of Bali. Former Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas and East Timorese victims of the violence that followed the occupied territory's decision to breakaway from Indonesia were the first to appear.

The Indonesia-East Timor Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF) aims to establish the truth behind the violence and clarify the history of the two countries.

Indonesia invaded East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, in 1975, beginning a brutal 24-year rule in which as many as 200,000 people died from military atrocities and during a low-scale guerrilla war with Timorese resistance fighters.

The commission has been criticised by human rights groups because it lacks the ability to prosecute senior members of the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) for ordering military-backed militias to massacre Timorese civilians and to raze entire villages.

Several senior Indonesian army and police generals have been acquitted of any involvement in the violence and the Jakarta government has refused to hand over any suspects to a UN-run tribunal in East Timor.

Alatas told reporters after the hearing that he did not see any involvement of Indonesian military troops in violence before or after the UN-run ballot.

"The Indonesian Armed Forces . acted accordingly with all the security arrangement signed with the United Nations," Alatas told reporters, adding that the Indonesian military took efforts to stop the violence after Jakarta invited UN-endorsed peacekeepers into the territory.

General Wiranto, who was the chief of the Indonesian Armed Forces at that time, "played a major role" in helping to crush the mass, Alatas said.

Wiranto, a leading suspect who has been indicted for war crimes by UN prosecutors in East Timor, is expected to appear before the commission in March.

The post-ballot violence only halted after an Australian-led peacekeeping contingent came into East Timor, which was later under UN control until gaining statehood in May 2002.

The CTF's 10 members include legal and human rights experts, academics and religious leaders from both Indonesia and East Timor. It will submit its findings to both governments, and can recommend amnesties for perpetrators if they are found to be "fully cooperative" with the commission.

East Timor voters overwhelmingly chose independence from Indonesia instead of special autonomy, triggering a rampage by Indonesian soldiers and pro-Jakarta militiamen across the half-island territory.

The United Nations claims that more than 1,000 East Timorese were killed in the tragic incident, while most of the territory's infrastructure was destroyed in the mayhem.

Monday's hearing was the first of five planned for the next few months to investigate the actions of the Indonesian military as they withdrew from the territory, as well as those of local militia groups.

But human rights groups say the hearings will simply perpetuate a culture of impunity for the serious crimes committed during East Timor's struggle for independence, since it was unlikely any senior military officers would be recommended for prosecution. dpa gs sh jc pw

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