Subject: East Timor's president defends pardoning killer

East Timor's president defends pardoning killer

2008-08-04 14:08:02 -

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) - East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta has defended his decision to pardon a notorious Timorese militia leader, saying it was unfair to keep him in prison while Indonesians responsible for violence during his country's transition to independence remain free.

«The reality is that no one in Indonesia _ senior military who were

involved directly or indirectly in the violence in '99 _ will ever be prosecuted,» the 58-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner told Australian Broadcasting Corp. in an interview aired Monday.

«Should I continue to ... keep in jail an individual Timorese who was working under direction from someone else who is not going to jail?» Ramos-Horta said.

Joni Marquez, an East Timorese leader of a militia run by Indonesian special forces, led the slaughter of nine members of a church delegation, including two nuns and a priest, who were bringing aid to villagers in 1999 three weeks after East Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia in a U.N.-backed referendum.

He has given varying accounts of who ordered the attack.

He was convicted in 2001 of crimes against humanity, including torture and murder, and sentenced to 33 years in prison.

But in May, Marquez was quietly released with a presidential pardon after serving only eight years. Ramos-Horta's leniency angered many in his deeply Roman Catholic homeland.

«Clearly, it's not a good message with regard to impunity and accountability for serious crimes,» the local representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louis Gentile, told British Broadcasting Corp. last month.

But in the ABC interview recorded in Sydney on July 28, Ramos-Horta said many of the pro-Jakarta militias who razed his country in the weeks surrounding the ballot were fueled by drugs and alcohol provided by the Indonesians. «As president, I make a lonely decision on the pardons following my conscience because I know we Timorese have to answer for a lot ourselves,» he said.

«A vengeful path ... would lead us nowhere,» he added.

Ramos-Horta, who was shot twice in an attempted assassination in East Timor's capital in February, has pardoned scores of prisoners since he was elected second president of his impoverished country last year.

He argues that East Timor should deal with its tragic past through forgiveness.

Last month, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono acknowledged that his country carried out gross human rights abuses during East Timor's break for independence, but stopped short of offering a full apology and said no one would be prosecuted.

A bilateral truth commission, set up in 2005 to investigate the bloodshed, said Indonesian soldiers, police and civil authorities engaged in an «organized campaign of violence» against independence supporters, including murders, torture and other abuses.

Marquez said last month that the Indonesian military «destroyed» his mind with drugs.

But while he blamed the Indonesians, he also took some responsibility for the crimes he now regrets.

«I took a 33-year sentence because I did something bad. I must take responsibility,» he said.

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