Subject: AP: Habibie - Govt Never Sanctioned Timor Violence

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

Associated Press March 20, 2003

Ex-Indonesian Pres: Govt Never Sanctioned Timor Violence

JAKARTA (AP)--Ex-president B.J. Habibie told a human rights court Thursday that the bloodshed which swept across East Timor after its independence referendum in 1999 was the work of criminals, not the result of any order from his administration.

Habibie, who took over from Indonesia's longtime dictator Suharto in 1998, allowed the referendum on self-determination in the province that had been occupied by Indonesian troops in 1975.

His testimony appeared to deal a blow to the case of former East Timor military chief Gen. Tono Suratman, who is on trial for failing to prevent the rampage by Indonesian troops and their militia proxies that killed nearly 2,000 before the arrival of international peacekeepers.

It contradicts Suratman's defense argument that he was just carrying out orders from his bosses in Jakarta.

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

"But in fact, the opposite occurred. We prepared systematic measures to prevent (violence). What happened there was the result of criminal actions and whomever committed them should be put on trial," the former president said.

Habibie, who has lived in Germany since being voted out of office in 1999, rarely visits Indonesia. He has testified via teleconference links in corruption cases involving officials of his administration.

The Timor rights trials in Jakarta have come under fire for acquitting 11 of the 18 officials on trial for crimes against humanity.

Only five defendants have been convicted of prison terms, ranging from three to 10 years, including Noer Muis who replaced Suratman in East Timor. They all remain free pending appeals of their cases. The trials of two military generals are ongoing.

Human rights activists have criticized the trials as a sham, saying they were convened in order to defuse an international drive to set up a U.N. war crimes trial for East Timor akin to those for ex-Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

East Timor gained full independence in May, after a period of transitional rule by the United Nations following Indonesia's brutal 24-year occupation.

Habibie also defended his decision to back the referendum, saying he wanted to give the Timorese an option between remaining part of Indonesia or becoming independent.

"We discussed the matter, and the decision was made to respect the universal values of human rights," Habibie said. "Therefore, we gave the East Timorese people the opportunity to decide their own fate."

-Edited by Bernice Tang

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