Subject: SCMP: Grieving families fight for justice

Grieving families fight for justice

South China Morning Post - May 14, 2001

Chris McCall, Dili -- Fed up with Indonesia's feeble attempts at administering justice to accused war criminals, the families of East Timor's dead are getting together to do it their way.

In the back streets of Dili, in a house patched up with corrugated iron, lives Jacinto Alves Correia. Two days after the 1999 referendum on independence, and before the result was even announced, his younger brother was killed by militiamen. The body has never been found.

Now 29 and working with the United Nations administration, Mr Correia has been elected head of the new Association of Families of Victims and Missing Persons. The aim is to collect enough data on rights abuses to push for trials by an international court.

"In my view a solution in Indonesia is quite difficult," said Mr Correia. "There is no will to handle the problem. So we will send it to the United Nations, to satisfy the small people. The United Nations as a world body has the right to solve the problem." Even if Indonesia prosecutes and convicts the suspects it has named, there is no guarantee they will get heavy sentences. Two weeks ago a court in Jakarta gave six men jail sentences of under two years for their roles in the murders of three international UN staff in West Timor, prompting international outrage.

A special Indonesian tribunal on East Timor will only prosecute crimes committed after the August 30 referendum. Many bloody incidents occurred before it. In April, dozens were massacred in the town of Liquica and militiamen staged a bloody attack on the home of leading pro-independence figure Manuel Carrascalao in Dili. There were also attacks around Ermera, which, like Liquica, was hostile to Indonesian rule.

It is in Ermera and Liquica that the association is concentrating its work, along with Dili and a third pro-independence bastion, Manatuto. These areas were repeatedly targeted by Indonesian forces during Jakarta's 25-year occupation of the former Portuguese colony.

The association has opened offices in these areas to organise the families into one effective pressure group. It is concentrating on events in 1999, although it is under pressure from ordinary Timorese to widen this and include all the years of the Indonesian occupation.

The group's formation reflects a general cynicism in East Timor about Indonesia's efforts to deal with the issue. After the referendum, officials of the newly formed East Timor Human Rights Commission were prepared to give the new administration in Jakarta a chance to solve the problem. They now regard its tardiness with cynicism.

"I do not believe it. I am not convinced," said Vicente da Costa, a senior commission staff member. "It is the same regime. It is the same Government."

Jakarta has drawn up a list of just 23 suspects, excluding military leaders such as the then armed forces chief-of-staff General Wiranto. Feared militia chief Eurico Guterres recently received six months for inciting violence in West Timor, but was not charged over the 1999 violence. In Indonesia he is widely seen as a hero. Ironically, Guterres was involved in a recent church-sponsored bid at reconciliation. Yet it was almost certainly his Aitarak militia which killed Mr Correia's brother. Mr Correia's father died of illness while sheltering from Indonesian forces in the hills in the 1970s. The brothers were adopted by a family friend in Dili. There, the youngest became known as an independence activist. He was killed in the early hours of September 1, 1999. The rest of the family had fled to the hills after the ballot. He was sleeping alone in the house when the militiamen came. None of the 17 Aitarak members who lived in the area have yet returned.

"We want justice," said Mr Correia. "The criminals must be tried. I am sure there are ways for the victims' families to apply pressure so the militias and the military are arrested and tried before an international court. Now the hope of the victims' families is the international community."

They face an uphill task. The outside world is distinctly lukewarm about an international war crimes tribunal for East Timor for fear of upsetting or further destabilising Indonesia. Even East Timor's leaders are concerned about triggering new interference from their neighbour. Yet for the ordinary Timorese, the issue remains very simple. "Indonesian courts are not right," said Mr Correia.

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