Subject: SMH: Guterres set to slip through the net on atrocities

Sydney Morning Herald May 1, 2001

Guterres set to slip through the net on atrocities

Eurico Guterres, head of the Aitarak militia in East Timor, arrives at court in Jakarta for sentencing on a charge of inciting violence. Photo: Jason South

By Lindsay Murdoch in Jakarta

The notorious East Timorese militia leader Eurico Guterres will be free within weeks after a Jakarta court yesterday sentenced him to six months' jail for inciting violence.

The court said the four months he had spent under house arrest in Jakarta while awaiting the outcome of his trial should be deducted from the sentence.

Human rights activists and United Nations officials in Jakarta last night described the sentence as a slap on the wrist for Guterres, 26, who is accused of crimes against humanity at the height of the East Timor bloodshed in 1999. Prosecutors had sought a 12-month jail term.

Guterres appears set to escape other prosecutions over atrocities in East Timor because of a decree approved last week by Indonesia's President Abdurrahman Wahid that opens the way for a special human rights court to be established in Jakarta to hear East Timor atrocity cases - but only in relation to crimes committed after the August 1999 UN ballot.

The Indonesian Attorney-General's office last week assured the Australian Embassy that those involved in pre-ballot incidents would be prosecuted.

Indonesian prosecutors have spent more than a year investigating crimes allegedly committed by Guterres before the ballot, including the massacre of 12 people at the home of the independence leader Manuel Carrascalao.

The Herald has learned Indonesia's armed forces pressured Mr Wahid's Government to approve the cut-off date so that soldiers and officers could not be prosecuted for crimes committed during Indonesia's brutal 25-year occupation of East Timor.

A senior military officer said the decree's timing was designed to "focus the investigation".

"If it was not limited they might as well bring up [events] since 1975, and it will never end," the officer said.

"Is it fair if they charge us with things we did in the past? I mean, why now? Why didn't they cry out when the government issued the order to us? The TNI [military] was only doing what the country asked it to do."

The UN has questioned the cut-off date, and human rights groups in Jakarta are urging Mr Wahid to amend the decree.

Guterres told about 75 supporters outside the court yesterday that he did not accept its verdict and would appeal.

He was accused of inciting his men to oppose security personnel and take back 19 weapons they had handed over to police in the West Timor border town of Atambua last September.

The court was told Guterres was angered when police stopped him meeting Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who was in town to witness the handing over of militia weapons.

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