Subject: UN's Annan shocked at Jakarta's Timor sentences

UN's Annan shocked at Jakarta's Timor sentences

By Evelyn Leopold

UNITED NATIONS, May 4 (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed shock on Friday at the light sentences handed down by an Indonesian court for the brutal slaying of three U.N. staff in West Timor, calling the ruling an unacceptable response to a "despicable" act.

The 15-member U.N. Security Council, at the suggestion of Ireland, attempted to issue a similar statement. But diplomats said Russia blocked it, saying that would interfere in domestic judicial affairs.

The three victims, employed by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, were stabbed, their bodies dragged into the street and set ablaze last September after a mob attacked their office in the West Timor border town of Atambua.

A court in Jakarta on Friday jailed six men for 20 months, saying that the killings could not be directly linked to the defendants because of the rampaging mob.

"The secretary-general was shocked to learn of the light sentences handed down by a Jakarta court today," U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said.

Annan, he said, welcomed the determination of Indonesia to bring the perpetrators "of such despicable acts to justice," but the ruling "appears incommensurate with what is known to have been deliberate and brutal killings."

"This is a blow to the international community's efforts to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian personnel, and a wholly unacceptable response to the ultimate sacrifice" made by the three aid workers, Annan's statement said.

U.N. staff have not returned to Indonesian West Timor since the slayings, where about 100,000 East Timor refugees are living, many against their will.

Rampaging gunmen drove the refugees across the border after East Timorese in August 1999 voted for independence from Indonesia. The United Nations is currently administering East Timor before it becomes independent next year.

The Security Council, after closed-door discussions, decided to speak to Indonesia's U.N. ambassador. Ireland, backed by the United States, Britain, France and Norway, had proposed the council express its concern at the sentences, but Russia objected.

"We needed a strong signal, "Irish envoy Paul Kavanagh said. "The council president needed to publicly reflect the concern of members."

U.S. envoy James Cunningham, this month's council president, said he had been asked to meet Indonesia's ambassador "to obtain further information about the verdict and the sentencing."

"This is being done in keeping with the council's interest in ensuring justice and sending the general message that there can be no impunity for those who use violence against U.N. or international humanitarian staff," he told reporters.

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