Subject: E. Timor Justice Likely To Suffer From U.S. Courting of Indonesia

Asia Times October 5, 2001

East Timor justice suffers in the big picture

By Jill Jolliffe

DILI - United Nations authorities in East Timor are challenging Indonesia's stand on East Timor war crimes by demanding the handover of 10 men accused of a September 1999 massacre in which 65 unarmed civilians were killed.

Classified as crimes against humanity, the killings occurred in the western Oecusse enclave on September 8-10 1999, and are outside the ambit of a law approved by President Megawati Sukarnoputri in August. Despite a UN Security Council resolution giving Indonesia responsibility to try military officers involved in all crimes in East Timor between 1 January and 20 September 1999, the new Indonesian law restricts prosecutions to six specific cases and time periods, excluding the Oecusse massacre.

Prosecutor Mohamed Othman said that the killings involved three Oecusse villages and were "the biggest massacre where investigations have led to the discovery of mass graves ... there was a very special pattern. The villages were all pro-independence, and young adult males between 16 and 21 were targeted".

An indictment against 11 alleged killers was filed in Dili court last Thursday, and arrest warrants should be issued this week and sent to the Indonesian prosecutor demanding that the men be transferred to East Timor under the terms of an April 2000 agreement between Jakarta and UNTAET, the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor. Those accused include Simao Lopes and Laurentino Soares, leaders of the Sakunar militia group, and two Indonesian army officers, Sergeant Andre Ulan and Anton Sabraka, an Oecusse district commander. Only one person, Florenco Tacaqui, is in custody, in Dili's Becora prison.

Most of those killed had been forcibly abducted to West Timor and then marched to an area just inside the Oecusse border where they were shot or hacked to death.

If the Indonesian government fails to prosecute perpetrators of crimes in East Timor, the UN Security Council can authorize the establishment of an international war crimes tribunal to hear the cases. However, the new international outlook following the terror attacks in the US means that there is unlikely to be a rigorous insistence that Indonesia honor its commitments. The US is courting Megawati as the leader of the world's largest Islamic nation, and justice for East Timor is likely to be an incidental casualty.

As in 1975, when Indonesia mounted a brutal invasion of the territory, it is considered of little strategic importance on a world scale, so that the clamor of its population for justice is likely to be sacrificed to realpolitik.

First news of the killings, known as the Passabe massacre after the river where the victims were executed, was brought to the attention of UN authorities soon after Australian-led peacekeeping forces entered East Timor in September 1999 to end Indonesian-orchestrated militia violence. Then, a boy of about 10 appeared at the Australian border garrison at Batugade with a letter hand-carried from the Oecusse enclave. Written by community leaders, it described mass executions and asked for peacekeeping forces to intervene as rapidly as possible. The child had crossed Indonesian lines on foot, travelling the 43 kilometers which divide the enclave from the border of the principal land mass of East Timor. It was to be several more weeks before UN forces entered Oecusse, where the mass graves were discovered.

The dead represented the entire population of the villages of Tumin, Nibin and Kiobeselo with the exception of 10 survivors. Their testimony, and the fact that investigators exhumed all the bodies and conducted autopsies, makes the prosecution case particularly strong. The indictment says Sakunar militia activities were initiated by former provincial government, military and police officials including ex-governor Abilio Osorio Soares, militia leader Eurico Guterres and the Oecusse military and police commanders, Kamiso Mira and Wilmar Marpaung. No charges have yet being laid against them: by prosecuting low-ranking perpetrators in a range of separate atrocities, the UN hopes to build a picture of overall responsibility that will eventually allow them to charge high-ranking Indonesian officials.

It said the Sakunar leaders had met in Oecusse on September 7 to plan the massacre. "It was state-sponsored and organized ... a real merciless extermination," Othman said. He said that the options for Indonesia were to either transfer the 10 men to East Timor under the terms of the April 2000 agreement, or put them on trial in Indonesia.

Because forensic experts were not then available to the UN in East Timor, the bodies were only exhumed months after the killings and were in unrecognizable state. UN authorities have taken DNA swabs from relatives and a Canadian laboratory is attempting to identify victims by matching remains with this material.

The first crimes against humanity trial to be held under the UN transitional government in East Timor began in July and is still in course. Ten people, including an Indonesian officer, are charged with the murder of three priests, two nuns and 10 civilians, including Indonesian journalist Agus Mulyawan, in the Lospalos region in September 1999.

The latest charges follow a shake-up in the human rights area of the UN administration, following complaints that prosecutors were proceeding too slowly and that police investigators are scandalously under-resourced. Among recent changes has been the appointment of New Zealander Dennis McNamara as deputy to Brazilian Sergio Vieira de Mello in the leadership of UNTAET. McNamara has been outspoken from the outset on human rights issues, including the need to pursue Indonesian and East Timorese perpetrators of atrocities more vigorously.

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