Subject: BBC: Ex-leader testifies on E Timor

Thursday, 20 March, 2003, 11:02 GMT

Ex-leader testifies on E Timor

Former Indonesian president B J Habibie gestures at a human rights trial at the central Jakarta court

Mr Habibie said he would not support human rights violations Indonesia's president at the time of the 1999 independence referendum in East Timor, BJ Habibie, has been testifying on the bloodshed during the vote.

Mr Habibie denied that his government had attempted to sway the vote by ordering a violent campaign of intimidation.

He told a human rights court in Jakarta that his government had taken measures to prevent violence, which he described as "criminal action".

The former president, who now lives in Germany, was testifying at the trial of a senior military commander, Brigadier General Tono Suratman, who is accused of failing to prevent attacks on pro-independence leaders and civilians in East Timor.

At least 1,000 people died in the violence surrounding the referendum, in which East Timorese voted overwhelming for independence, before international peacekeepers were deployed to restore order.

Many of those killed were caught in rampages by militia groups opposed to an end to Indonesian rule. International human rights groups have accused Jakarta of orchestrating the militias.

"If there was any link to Jakarta, there would have been a written or unwritten order to carry this out," Mr Habibie said.

"But in fact, the opposite occurred. We prepared systematic measures to prevent (violence)," he said, arguing that "I would have never justified any systematic attempts to violate human rights."

The former president's comment contradict the defence of Brigadier Suratman, who has argued that he was carrying out orders from Jakarta.

Mr Habibie attributed the fighting in part to the hurried nature of the UN-organised referendum. He said the UN only informed Jakarta one hour before it announced that it was moving forward the announcement of the result by three days.

"We had very little time to anticipate reaction from the losing side," Mr Habibie said.

Brigadier Suratman is accused of failing to prevent two massacres in April in which a total of 32 people were killed.

He is one of two remaining suspects on trial for alleged crimes against humanity in Jakarta.

The Jakarta court, which was set up because of international pressure on Indonesia, has been criticised by human rights activists for acquitting 11 of the defendants.

But rights groups say the real perpetrators of the violence were never brought to trial in the first place.

UN-funded prosecutors in East Timor last month issued their own indictments against seven Indonesian officers.

A BBC correspondent said this was largely a symbolic gesture of frustration at the Jakarta trials. Indonesia has said it will not hand the men over to East Timor.

Jakarta trials

18 defendants

5 convicted - all free pending appeals

Indonesians convicted: Col. Soejarwo, Police commander Hulman Gultom, Noer Muis - now brigadier general

E Timorese convicted: Former governor Abilio Soares and former militia leader Eurico Guterres

11 acquitted - including former Indonesian police chief in E Timor, Timbo Salaen, and former Indonesian army chief in Dili, Endar Priyanto

2 top army officers still awaiting verdicts

Indonesia's former military chief, Gen. Wiranto, and other top officers never charged

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