Subject: Six accused of killing UN workers want trial in West Timor

Six accused of killing UN workers want trial in West Timor

JAKARTA, Jan 23 (AFP) - Lawyers for six men charged with the killings of three UN aid workers in West Timor Tuesday called for the trials to be moved to the border town of Atambua, where the murders were committed.

"It is true that the laws stipulates that a court can move venue if the situation is not conducive, but the situation in Atambua is quite safe," lawyer Nikolay Abe told the North Jakarta district court.

He said a decree issued by the justice and human rights affairs minister on November 8, 2000, ordering the trial to be held in Jakarta and not in Atambua for security reasons was "not acceptable."

The North Jakarta court had no authority to try the cases, he argued.

The same argument was put before the two simultaneous trials being held here of five East Timorese and one West Timorese accused of the killings.

But the judges said a ruling on the venue could not be expected for two weeks, as the prosecution will have to respond to the request when the twin trials resume next Tuesday.

The six are charged with manslaughter or violence leading to the death of the UNHCR staffers -- an American, a Croatian and an Ethiopian -- whose brutal killings in September sparked an international outcry.

The UN Security Council has demanded that the perpetrators of the attack on the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the West Timor border town of Atambua to be brought to justice.

In the hearing of the first trial, the court heard the defence plea for East Timorese Xisto Pereira, 26, Serafin Ximenes, 26 and Joao Martins, 27, all accused of violence leading to the death of a person or persons -- a charge carrying up to 12 years in jail.

In the hearing of the second trial, West Timorese entrepreneur Julius Naisama, 30, and East Timorese farmers Jose Fransisco, 35 and Joao Alves da Cruz, 26, are charged with manslaughter -- carrying up to 15 years in jail.

The September attack led to the pullout of all foreign humanitarian workers from West Timor where more than 300,000 East Timorese sought refuge from the pro-Jakarta militia violence which erupted in East Timor in September 1999 after the people there voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia.

All six defendants were among the mob which forced their way into the UNHCR office in Atambua, attacked the UN staff, hacked them to death and burned their bodies, prosecutors have said.

Abe also denounced the charges as vague and imprecise, citing the accusation that one of the defendants, Fransisco, stabbed his victim "more than once."

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