Subject: LUSA: Controversial amnesty bill squeezes through parliament in third try

05-05-2004 19:04:00 GMT . Fonte LUSA. Notícia SIR-6010370 Temas:

East Timor: Controversial amnesty bill squeezes through parliament in third try Dili, May 5 (Lusa) - The East Timorese parliament narrowly approved Wednesday a controversial general amnesty for all crimes committed up to March 31, including the so-called "serious crimes" carried out by anti-independence militias and Indonesian troops in 1999.

The bill, presented by Justice Minister Domingos Sarmento, passed in generality by 24 votes to 18 with 14 abstentions. It will face an item-by-item debate and vote next week.

The government, which had twice failed to get approval for similar bills in 2001 and 2003, justified its move with the need for national reconciliation.

The amnesty comes as the Timorese prepare to celebrate the second anniversary of their hard-won independence on May 20.

The bill's preamble underlined "the importance of forgiving, without forgetting, even those who committed so-called `serious crimes' (Ó) because the spirit of national reconciliation must also extend to them".

`Serious crimes' is the term applied in East Timor to crimes against humanity committed around the time of the country's 1999 independence plebiscite by the scorched-earth campaign unleashed by Indonesian occupation forces and proxy militias.

Opposition lawmaker Leandro Isaac questioned the government's initiative, asking how Timorese victims could "forgive the butchers" when they had yet to "recover psychologically from the crimes".

Many civil society organizations also denounced the amnesty, with some forecasting its application could provoke "chaos in the justice system".

Some 250,000 East Timorese were forced to flee their homes during the pro-Indonesia rampages that destroyed about 75 percent of the territory's infrastructures.

More than 1,000 independence supporters were killed.

EL/SAS Lusa

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