Subject: Horta pushes amnesty laws for 2006 violence

Asia: Horta pushes amnesty laws

By Stephanie March

DILI, July 13 AAP - East Timor's President Jose Ramos Horta is pushing for new laws to grant amnesty to perpetrators of the violence that wracked the tiny nation in 2006.

Under the draft legislation - yet to go before East Timor's arliament - perpetrators of crimes including murder during the 2006 political crisis could avoid going through the courts by instead issuing a public apology.

And families of victims killed during the unrest could be in line for $10,000 compensation, a vast sum in the poverty-stricken nation.

"The priority is not to punish the perpetrator, but is to restore the situation of the victims prior to the crime as much as possible," the draft law states.

The move follows the recent controversial move by the head of state to slash the sentences of numerous prisoners, with several ex-militia jailed for crimes against humanity over the 1999 violence now free from prison.

It also comes as the landmark East Timor-Indonesia Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF) is due to formally hand down its report into the 1999 bloodshed surrounding East Timor's historic vote for independence.

The report blames Indonesia for murders, rapes and torture in 1999, with a lack of accountability among security forces a key cause.

Brussels-based think-tank the International Crisis Group (ICG) says the new draft law, if passed, will erode people's confidence in East Timor's justice system, and the rule of law.

"Serious crimes were committed in 2006, including arson and murder," ICG South East Asia project director John Virgoe told AAP.

"If the perpetrators and the political and military figures behind the violence are not held to account, there will be no deterrent against future outbreaks of political violence."

He said the president's decision to grant full or partial pardons to 94 prisoners in May will also make it difficult for East Timor to move forward.

"People's sense of justice is not satisfied, their belief in the rule of law is undermined and the message is sent that, in East Timor, you can, quite literally, get away with murder," he said.

Local MP Fernanda Borges, of the minority party PUN, said the political nature of the 2006 conflict was clouding the judgment of many politicians.

More than 30 people were killed when sections of the police and army turned on each other in Dili's streets.

"There is a lot of political conflict of interest that makes it very difficult for people to have an independent view of the situation without feeling like: 'Whoa, if we don't have this we might all be held responsible for it' and I think that is clouding their judgment," she said.

An East Timor court is reportedly also set to consider a request that an alleged key player of the 2006 violence travel overseas for medical treatment.

Vicente da Conceicao, known as "Railos", who is alleged to have led armed civilians in attacks against East Timor's military personnel in 2006, was arrested in October last year and remains in pre-trial detention.

Former government minister Rogerio Lobato - one of the few people ever jailed over the 2006 crisis - is yet to return after he was sent to Malaysia for medical treatment in 2007.

He received a pardon from Ramos Horta earlier this year.

Ramos Horta has defended his decision to grant pardons, including to militia leader Joni Marques who murdered nuns and a priest in violence surrounding the 1999 independence vote.

He said it was enough that Marques had served eight years, when no Indonesians would serve time over the violence.

"What do I tell my conscience," Ramos Horta told the Portuguese news agency Lusa.

"This militia (has) already served eight years.

"Can you imagine? There is no Indonesian military on trial or in prison and East Timor, showing great heroism of its judicial system, keeps an idiot, an unfortunate guy, in prison."


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