Subject: E.Timor militia to stand trial within weeks - U.N.

E.Timor militia to stand trial within weeks - U.N.

By Joanne Collins

DILI, East Timor, Nov 23 (Reuters) - Pro-Indonesia militiamen detained for crimes committed during the vote for independence in East Timor could stand trial in the territory within weeks.

``Those detainees could be standing trial in the Dili court by mid-December...those cases will be brought immediately to the attention of the judges, and prosecutors will have to build the case,'' U.N. legal adviser Hansjoerg Strohmeyer told Reuters on Tuesday.

``But this doesn't mean we will have the first verdict by the end of the year, particularly given the gravity of these cases and the possible implication for the reconciliation process.''

Twenty detainees are being held in central Dili awaiting trial for murder, torture and sexual assault.

Five of those are accused of being involved in the murder of three nuns and a priest at Los Palos in early October.

FILLING A LEGAL VACUUM

East Timor's new judicial system is being swiftly set up by the U.N. to fill a legal vacuum and deal with the raft of cases expected to arise from events before and after the August 30 vote that saw the territory choose to split from Indonesia.

The United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) -- which will guide the territory to independence over the next two to three years -- has established a commission of five East Timorese and two international legal experts to select judges and prosecutors.

``Legal expertise is of course a problem, it's not as if we have a rich pool of experienced lawyers, but we have a pool of young and very committed lawyers and who are very eager and open to be trained and learn.''

Strohmeyer said only five of the 50 trained East Timorese lawyers, had licences to practice.

East Timor's new legal system will be based on Indonesian civil law, but he said there would be significant differences in its application.

``We intend to use a civil law with an inquisitorial system because it's rooted in the previous legal tradition of Indonesia but we'll continue on the basis of Indonesian legislation only in so far as the laws are consistent and compatible with internationally recognised human rights standards.''

``The current procedural code of Indonesia provides for 20 or 40 day arrests without judicial hearings, now such a process wouldn't be applicable any more because it is inconsistent with international human rights' standards which demand a hearing after 24 or 48 hours.''

Laws governing national defence and security would also be reviewed, he said.

UNIQUE CHALLENGES

``This is a truly unique situation here... we've had at least comparable experiences in Kosovo and Cambodia but in terms of limitation of resource, this is a very unique case, this is really starting from scratch.''

Up to eight district courts are planned for the territory in the transitional period and one appeals court.

Law enforcement is also making headway in East Timor with the first of the territory's newly trained police due to hit the ground within the two months.

Chief of the U.N. civilian police operation in East Timor, Chief Superintendent Bill Paterson said recruits were now being sought to build a 3000-strong force, including a paramilitary force.

``We're looking to establish a force which is basically an unarmed, democratic police force,'' he said. ``Obviously there will be an armed capacity, but it will be around 200.''


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