Subject: UN pushes for harsher sentences for killers of refugee workers

UN pushes for harsher sentences for killers of refugee workers

JAKARTA, Sept 11 (AFP) - The United Nations' refugee agency told Indonesia Tuesday to impose tougher sentences on the killers of three of its staff, who were murdered by a frenzied mob in their office in West Timor last year.

The deputy chief of the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Soren Jessen-Petersen, told Indonesia's attorney general that the 10 to 20-month sentences handed down on six men who killed the UNHCR staff were "shockingly light."

In September 2000 a mob of frenzied East Timorese militiamen stoned, stabbed and beat to death the three unarmed UNHCR workers -- an American, a Croatian and an Ethiopian -- in the border town of Atambua. Their bodies were set on fire.

A Jakarta court in May found six men not guilty of their murder and instead convicted them of inciting mob violence.

"We made it clear that it was a shock, that it was a mockery. Our colleagues were murdered, in cold-blooded murder," Jessen-Petersen told AFP after meeting attorney general Muhammad Abdul Rachman.

An appeal by state prosecutors against the lenient sentences is still being considered. In the original trial however prosecutors however only asked for two to three year sentences.

"As far as we are concerned a maximum sentence on the basis of mob violence will never be justice because what happened in Atambua was cold-blooded murder," he said.

"Therefore a sentence should be in proportion with the crime of murder."

The UNHCR deputy chief is the most senior official of the agency to visit Indonesia since the killings, which prompted the exodus of all foreign aid workers from West Timor.

He said the UNHCR was not pushing for the conviction to be changed to that of murder, out of respect for Indonesia's legal system, but for a sentence that amounted to justice.

Indonesian officials have pledged to support the full repatriation of up to 80,000 East Timorese refugees still stranded in West Timor, Jessen-Petersen said.

"We got a very strong commitment...that the government now is firmly in support of a lasting solution to this problem, and primarily, and as a priority, full return," he said of his meeting with three top ministers on Monday.

He said there was "now a clear policy statement and will on the part of the government to proceed" along the lines of repatriation.

A majority of refugees could be returned home by the year-end, he said.

"Whether the whole problem would be solved before the end of the year is maybe slightly optimistic, but a lot could happen and will happen before the end of the year."

He said the operation could happen "very quickly" because of the peaceful elections in East Timor on August 30, when 91 percent of those eligible elected a constituent assembly without violence.

"I think everybody has been impressed including, we believe, a lot of the refugees," Jessen-Petersen said.

"The government of Indonesia has decided it's clearly in their interests to see this problem resolved within a very short time frame. I'm quite hopeful."

Some 250,000 East Timorese fled or were forced to flee to West Timor following a campaign of terror by pro-Indonesian militias after East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia in August 1999.

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