Subject: Interview: E.Timor leader warns of war crimes tribunal

INTERVIEW-E.Timor leader warns of war crimes tribunal

By Joanne Collins

JAKARTA, Jan 24 (Reuters) - The foreign minister of U.N.-run East Timor, Jose Ramos-Horta, said on Wednesday the United Nations would support a war crimes tribunal if Indonesia's courts failed to deal with perpetrators of the violence that surrounded the territory's 1999 independence vote.

The Nobel peace laureate said a majority of the 15-member Security Council would support the move if necessary.

The U.N. has commissioned only two war crimes tribunals in its history, for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

"To those who say the Security Council, because of Russia and China, would not pass such a resolution to set up a war crimes tribunal, I would say they might be mistaken," Ramos-Horta said in an interview during a five-day visit to Jakarta.

"I have met with all permanent members and all non-permanent members, the 15 who would make a decision, and I am confident we would have a simple majority to create such a court," he said.

The Indonesian Attorney-General's office is investigating violence carried out during the August 1999 independence ballot in the former Portuguese colony. The U.N. estimates more than 1,000 people were killed, but courts have yet to hear any cases.

Almost 80 percent of East Timorese voted to break from Indonesia's harsh 23-year rule, sparking a bloody rampage by pro-Jakarta militias backed by the military.

"We have given, and will continue to give the benefit of the doubt to the Indonesian legal system...," Ramos-Horta said.

"However, the Indonesian side knows that the Security Council could eventually establish a war crimes tribunal if the process in Indonesia becomes a travesty, a farce."

He said China and Russia, fearful of their own human rights' records, would likely abstain from any vote to set up a tribunal.


While dubious of Indonesia's legal process, Ramos-Horta praised efforts by Attorney-General Marzuki Darusman in expediting the trial of East Timor militia boss Eurico Guterres over separate violence in Indonesian West Timor last year.

"The charges are not related directly to war crimes, crimes against humanity, for which Eurico Guterres should be indicted... but this is a step forward," he said.

Guterres, revered by some nationalist groups and legislators in Indonesia, has been charged with inciting violence in West Timor last year and faces up to five years in jail.

Ramos-Horta also scoffed at local media reports which said he was meddling in Jakarta's own investigations into the violence.

"If I am interfering it means the United Nations is interfering, the United States, Australia and all the countries that are following the issue, providing information, demanding justice be done, are interfering," he said.

He said his visit to Jakarta was a courtesy call.


Ramos-Horta, who fled East Timor just days before Indonesian troops invaded in December 1975, added he agreed with U.N. chief Kofi Annan who last week said East Timor's timetable for formal independence by the end of the year was ambitious.

The U.N. is expected to run East Timor until the end of the year, when its mandate expires.

"I absolutely share the secretary general's comments... we must be flexible, we must be proud, we must move step by step gradually without haste because we could derail the whole process," Ramos-Horta said.

"We have been waiting for 500 years for independence, six more months, one more year, why not?"

Elections have been scheduled for August, to coincide with the two-year anniversary of the 1999 self determination ballot.

Ramos-Horta said armed pro-Jakarta militia gangs based in West Timor remained a threat to the tiny territory and U.N. peacekeepers would mostly likely remain until 2004.

He said Australia -- which has the largest contingent of the nearly 8,000-strong peacekeeping force -- as well asPortugal and the United States had indicated they would support an extension.

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