Subject: Timor urged to get tough on offenders

The Age

Timor urged to get tough on offenders

Lindsay Murdoch, Darwin

March 31, 2008

NON-GOVERNMENT organisations have called on the East Timorese Government to end a cycle of impunity for the perpetrators of violence, including those committing political crimes.

The East Timor NGO Forum, which represents 170 organisations in Dili, urged countries that send aid to the country to push for accountability for past crimes, including those committed during the 25 years of Indonesia's occupation.

Most offences committed since the violent upheaval in 2006 remain unsolved and "not one convicted person is in a legally recognised prison facility", the forum said in a statement delivered at a foreign donor's conference held at East Timor's Foreign Ministry.

Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao told the conference that 600 soldiers whose actions prompted the 2006 violence would not face prosecution. He said the state was "not exempt from responsibility" for failing to acknowledge the men's aspirations.

The soldiers, who are living together in a Dili camp, would be offered money or return to the army, Mr Gusmao said.

The soldiers were led by Gastao Salsinha, the former army lieutenant who led last month's attack on Mr Gusmao and is still on the run in East Timor's central mountains. At least eight of his men who have surrendered since the attacks have been welcomed by leaders in Dili, including Mr Gusmao, and have still not been jailed.

The NGO Forum said in its statement that "many people observe that those who commit political crimes go free even though they were recommended for prosecution by independent commissions".

The Age reported last month that East Timor's President Jose Ramos Horta had promised to push for an amnesty for rebel leader Alfredo Reinado before he was killed while leading an attack on the President's home.

The NGO Forum also criticised the Government's decision to extend until April 22 a state of siege, which includes curfews and limits on assembly.

Meanwhile, the commission investigating violence that erupted during East Timor's independence vote in 1999 is ready to submit its findings after several delays caused by disagreements among commissioners.

The Indonesia-East Timor Commission of Truth and Friendship has no prosecution powers and can recommend amnesties for those who testified before it. It has been boycotted by the United Nations, which says those guilty of human rights violence should face justice.

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