Subject: BBC/AP: Court to free E. Timor governor

Also: AP: Court to free E. Timor governor


Ex-East Timor governor acquitted

The only person to go to jail in Indonesia for the 1999 violence in East Timor has been cleared on appeal.

Abilio Soares, governor of the then-Indonesian province, had been found guilty of crimes against humanity.

But Indonesia's Supreme Court has ruled that because the military was in charge at the time, Mr Soares, a civilian, could not be responsible.

Around 1,000 people died during East Timor's transition to independence, many killed by pro-Jakarta militias.

Of the 18 people put on trial by Indonesia's human rights tribunal over the violence, all but one have now been acquitted, although some cases are still the subject of appeals.

Soares was convicted in 2002 of failing to prevent the bloodshed which wracked the territory before, during, and after its vote to become independent of Indonesia. Many were killed by pro-Jakarta militias.

Soares only began serving his three-year sentence in July, but he could now be free within days.

An ethnic Timorese, Soares has long maintained that he was being made a scapegoat while military commanders walked free.


But East Timorese rights activists were angered by Soares' release.

"This decision shows that the Indonesian government is protecting its ex-officials and that the culture of impunity still exists," said Jose Luis Oliveira, head of rights organisation Yayasan Hak.

"Soares joined with the military in forming the militias that killed the independence activists," he said.

The tribunal has been widely criticised by human rights groups and foreign governments but the government of East Timor has downplayed the importance of the tribunals, arguing that good relations with Jakarta should take priority over justice.

However, Indonesia's Foreign Minister, Hassan Wirayuda, acknowledged that the verdict would increase international criticism of Jakarta.

"This decision against Soares will add to the arguments for those who are questioning the credibility of the legal process in Indonesia," he said.

The only person whose conviction still stands is Eurico Guterres, a notorious militia leader. He is still free pending appeal.

The BBC's correspondent in Jakarta, Rachel Harvey, says that the most senior military leaders implicated in the violence were never even indicted.

INDONESIA'S EAST TIMOR TRIALS Adam Damiri, military commander - acquitted Timbul Silaen, police chief - acquitted Colonel Nur Muis, ex-military leader - acquitted Hulman Gultom, former police commissioner - acquitted Security forces personnel Soejarwo, Asep Kuswani, Adios Salova, Leoneto Martins, Endar Priyanto, Herman Sedyono, Liliek Kusardiyanto Ahmad Syamsudin, Sugito, Gatot Subiaktoro, Tono Suratman, Letkol Soedjarwo - acquitted Abilio Soares, former governor - jailed but then acquitted Eurico Guterres, militia leader - appealing jail sentence

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2004/11/05 08:40:57 GMT

Court to free E. Timor governor

Thursday, November 4, 2004 Posted: 11:16 PM EST (0416 GMT)

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) -- Indonesia's Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of East Timor's former governor for his role in the 1999 violence there, and he will be released within days, the ex-governor and his lawyers said Friday.

Abilio Jose Soares was the first -- and remains the only -- Indonesian official to be punished over the bloodshed that accompanied East Timor's break from 24 years of Indonesia rule following a U.N-sponsored referendum.

His release dismayed rights activists, who have long called on Jakarta to punish those responsible for the carnage.

Vengeful Indonesian troops and militia proxies killed up to 2,000 people and destroyed much of the tiny territory in the days after the vote.

Soares -- who is ethnic East Timorese -- was found guilty in 2002 and began serving a three-year sentence in July this year, but filed a judicial review of his case at the Supreme Court.

The court, which sits behind closed doors, had ruled in his favor, saying he had no role in orchestrating the violence, said his attorney Juan Felix Tampubolon.

Judges were not immediately available for comment.

"My lawyers are bringing the ruling later on today," Soares told The Associated Press by mobile phone from his cell in Jakarta. "I should be out of here by Monday."

"I have always said, and will continue to say until the world ends, that I am innocent," he said, declining further comment until he had seen the ruling.

Indonesia came under intense pressure to punish those responsible for the 1999 violence, and charged 18 ex-officials, most of them Indonesian police and military officials, with human rights crimes in a specially convened tribunal.

Twelve of the defendants were acquitted. Three others have had their sentences overturned on appeal. Appeals in the cases of two remaining defendants are expected soon.

Soares has received sympathy from some lawmakers and government officials in East Timor, including President Xanana Gusmao.

They claim he was made a scapegoat for acquitted military officers with a more direct role in the bloodshed. All those found not guilty were non-ethnic East Timorese.

Still, East Timorese rights activists were angered by Soares' release.

"This decision shows that the Indonesian government is protecting its ex-officials and that the culture of impunity still exists," said Jose Luis Oliveira, who heads Yayasan HAK, the country's leading rights organization.

"Soares joined with the military in forming the militias that killed the independence activists."

The trials in Jakarta have been dismissed as a farce, and critics have called on the United Nations to convene an international tribunal to try those responsible.

East Timor's government does not support an international tribunal, saying that good relations with its former occupying power and massive neighbor are more important.

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