Subject: Gusmao Reduces Sentences For 3 Militiamen Who Killed Nuns, Clergymen

East Timor President Reduces Sentences For 3 Militiamen

DILI, East Timor, May 21 (AP)--East Timor President Xanana Gusmao has cut nearly nine years off the sentences of three pro-Indonesian militiamen convicted of killing a group of nuns and clergymen in 1999.

Gusmao, a former guerrilla who has made reconciliation a centerpiece of his presidency, said in a statement Thursday that he was reducing the sentences of 32 convicts, including the three militiamen, as "a symbolic act of forgiveness" to mark the country's second independence anniversary.

The three men - Joni Marques and brothers Paulo and Joao Costa - were each sentenced to 33 years and four months in prison after being found guilty in 2001 of murdering nine people, including a Roman Catholic priest, two nuns and a journalist, near the eastern town of Los Palos.

A spokesman for Gusmao, Agio Pereria, said the reduction of eight years and four months for each sentence was aimed at bringing the sentences in line with the country's criminal code, which limits sentences to a maximum of 25 years.

Human rights groups have criticized the government for lackadaisical prosecution of cases stemming from violence in 1999 in which the Indonesian military and its proxy militias killed 1,500 people and left the half-island in ruins.

The U.N.-backed Special Panels for Serious Crimes has indicted more than 380 people and convicted 52. But most, including Indonesian presidential candidate Gen. Wiranto, remain in Indonesia, which refuses to extradite them.

The issue came to head last week after a Dili court issued an arrest warrant for Wiranto. Jakarta appealed to Dili to block the warrant, and Timorese leaders attempted to appease their larger neighbor by promising to find a solution that would be "acceptable to all."

The government has also drawn up an amnesty law which would allow pardons for any type of criminal offense committed before March 31, 2004, but would be limited to those who have already served a third to a half of their jail sentences.

Rights groups say the bill would undermine the work of the rights court and have called on the international community to ensure justice is done for the thousands of Timorese victims.

-Edited by Jessica Tan


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