Subject: Ex-militia leader eyes parliament

Ex-militia leader eyes parliament

* Tom Allard, Indonesia Correspondent, Kupang

* March 28, 2009

EURICO Guterres — the militia leader found guilty, but then acquittted, of crimes against humanity during East Timor's violence-soaked birth — is hoping to catapult himself into Indonesia's national Parliamennt.

Campaigning to represent one of Indonesia's poorest provinces, Mr Guterres retains strong support among the pro-integrationist refugees from East Timor and is regarded as a national hero by many Indonesians, despite detailed allegations of his incitement of murderous rampages in 1999.

In an interview with The Age, Mr Guterres denied he had any ongoing links with the Indonesian security establishment that sponsored his Aitarak (Thorn) militia in East Timor and described himself as a mediator and advocate for the downtrodden.

"The living conditions at the refugee camps here are not good. They are being neglected," he said. "There are some who wish to return to Timor-Leste (East Timor). That's why I wanted to run, because I wanted to make sure, if and when they return, they will be accepted well."

Mr Guterres lives in Kupang, the capital of West Timor, but has been campaigning for the past week in the towns and villages along the border with East Timor, where most of the refugees from the 1999 conflict still live.

The living conditions in the border region are indeed harsh, with local media reporting the deaths of six children due to malnutrition this month. It is also a region that is rife with smuggling of fuel, drugs and, in some instances, weapons into East Timor, say police sources.

Mr Guterres was accused of orchestrating a militia attack on the house of a prominent pro-independence activist, Manuel Carrascalao, in 1999 that resulted in 12 deaths, an allegation that was the centrepiece of his indictment on charges of crimes against humanity.

He also made an infamous speech in the East Timorese capital Dili, declaring the country would become a "sea of fire" if the East Timorese voted for independence. More than 1000 people died and most major buildings there were razed after the ballot confirmed support for independence.

Mr Guterres served two years of a 10-year sentence before being acquitted and released in 2008. He is the only person ever jailed in Indonesia for the abuses in East Timor in 1999.

"What happened in Timor-Leste, for me, is in the past. I was tried, I was in prison, but the Supreme Court found me not guilty," he said.

"I have never killed anyone, nor issued (an) order to kill anyone. But, because I was the leader then, people assume the killings were done under my orders."

Ed Rees, a noted Timor analyst and security consultant, warned that Mr Guterres had the "ability to be a problem" if elected to parliament and is probably still "ultimately answerable" to military figures in Jakarta, retired or otherwise.

The Indonesian military counter-intelligence officer widely credited as enticing Mr Guterres to become a spy and later militia leader for Jakarta was Prabowo Subianto, who went on to head the notorious Indonesian special forces unit Kopassus and is running a well-financed bid for Indonesia's presidency.

Mr Guterres' parents were pro-independence activists killed by Indonesian forces in 1976 and he was known as an independence supporter before being turned.

"The people in (West Timor's border area) aren't having a great time," Mr Rees said. "If Guterres was given money and direction, there's certainly a lot of tinder for a fire."

Indonesia's Parliament is notoriously corrupt and its representatives are well remunerated by Indonesian standards. Members get a salary of about $120,000 a year plus perks, and large bribes are commonplace to get legislation accepted or contracts awarded.

Reflecting the flexible ideologies of many Indonesian political parties, Mr Guterres, a Catholic, is running for the National Mandate Party (PAN), which has its roots in the moderate Indonesian Islamic movement Muhammadiyah.

PAN secured about 10 per cent of parliamentary seats in the last election. It is not traditionally strong in West Timor but Mr Guterres' strong name recognition in a crowded field of candidates means few pundits are writing off his chances.

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