Subject: Indonesian judges rule trial of militia leader should go ahead

Indonesian judges rule trial of militia leader should go ahead

JAKARTA, Jan 22 (AFP) - Indonesian judges Monday threw out a plea to drop charges against a former militia leader, who has been linked to two massacres in East Timor, and ruled that his trial should go ahead.

As the ruling came in the North Jakarta district court, Eurico Guterres called on his supporters packing the courtroom not to disrupt the proceedings when it resumes on Monday, January 29.

Guterres has been charged with allegedly ordering his men to take back weapons surrendered during a handover ceremony in the West Timor border town of Atambua in September. He faces up to six years in jail if convicted.

The charge is unrelated to separate proceedings brought by UN prosecutors, who have asked Indonesia to hand over Guterres for two 1999 massacres in East Timor.

Judge Suwardi (eds: one name) ruled out the defence objections to the case, and also rejected Guterres' criticism of the prosecution's description of him as a militia leader and as "having no steady job."

"The term militia does not carry negative connotations. It's a general term also used by the media," chief judge Suwardi (eds: one name) said.

The leader of the feared Aitarak (Thorn) militia, Guterres was arrested at a hotel here on October 4 for ordering his men to snatch back the weapons handed over to police in West Timor.

After Monday's ruling, Guterres appealed to about 500 nationalist supporters not to try to disrupt the trial.

"The people know who the real traitors are, lackeys of foreigners masquerading as NGOs," he said referring to the groups, which have called for his trial on charges of human rights abuses.

"The law is only used for the interest of the powerful," he added.

East Timor-based UN prosecutors have asked for Guterres to be handed over to them in connection with the two massacres, but Jakarta has so far refused.

Guterres is also under investigation by Indonesian prosecutors as a suspect in one of the two April 1999 massacres in the East Timor capital of Dili.

The pro-Indonesia militias launched a frenzy of killing and destruction after East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia after two decades of occupation in a UN-held ballot in August 1999.

The violence forced around 250,000 people to flee across the border into West Timor and more than 100,000 others to hide in the forests of East Timor.

More than 100,000 East Timorese are still holed up in squalid camps in West Timor, where the militias terrorize and intimidate them, according to rights groups and UN officials.

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