Subject: East Timor militiaman admits to post-ballot murder

East Timor militiaman admits to post-ballot murder

JAKARTA, Jan 10 (AFP) - A former East Timorese militiaman pleaded guilty to murder Wednesday, in the first court hearing into crimes committed during the violence that surrounded East Timor's 1999 independence ballot, a UN spokesman said.

Joao Fernandes, 22, formerly a member of the pro-Indonesia Dadurus Red and White militia, admitted to murdering a village chief near the town of Maliana, 75 kilometers (47 miles) south-west of Dili, on September 8, four days after the pro-independence ballot results were announced.

The hearing was one of two preliminary trials into alleged cases of murder, one by a pro-integration East Timorese and one by a pro-independence East Timorese, in the East Timorese capital of Dili Wednesday.

Indonesian law, which provides for a maximum 20-year sentence for murder, was used by the Special Panel for Serious Crimes at Dili's District Court.

The court ordered Fernandes to reappear on January 16 for sentencing, a spokesman for the UN administration in East Timor, Peter Biro, said.

In the second case, pro-independence Falintil member Julio Fernandes (no relation to Joao Fernandes) admitted to killing a militiaman on September 26 in the village of Hatolia in Ermera district, 35 kilometers (22 miles) south-west of Dili.

But Fernandes, 30, told the court he was acting "under the orders of the people," Biro told AFP by phone from Dili.

"The prosecutor said that amounted to a guilty plea, but one of the judges was adamant that he definitely did not admit to murder," Biro said.

The court ordered the Falintil member to stand trial for murder on February 6.

The two killings both occurred in the weeks after the announcement of the 78.5 percent pro-independence result when enraged pro-Jakarta militia gangs escalated their campaign of terror, killing hundreds, razing towns to the ground, and forcing 250,000 people over the border into West Timor.

Preliminary hearings into another 10 cases of serious crimes are due to be held in Dili later this month.

The Special Panel for Serious Crimes is made up of three judges from Italy, Burundi and East Timor, Biro said.

Pro-Jakarta military-backed militia gangs led a wave of anti-independence violence, murder, rape and destruction before and after the August 1999 ballot.

UN investigators say at least 600 people were killed in the violence.

Between 60,000 and 100,000 East Timorese are still stranded in refugee camps in Indonesian-ruled West Timor.

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