Subject: AFP: Police powerless to stop ETimor violence, commission hears

Police powerless to stop ETimor violence, commission hears

Wed May 2, 11:41 AM ET

JAKARTA (AFP) - A former East Timor police chief cried as he told a commission on Wednesday that he was powerless to prevent deadly violence from raging in the country during its 1999 vote for independence.

Hulman Gultom said that poorly equipped military police refused to try to stop the deadly clashes between groups backing Indonesia, which had occupied East Timor, and pro-independence factions.

"They said they were only equipped for riot control, while the masses had machetes and arrows," he said at the Indonesia-East Timor commission, which is looking into the unrest during that troubled time.

Breaking down in tears, Gultom said he and some of his volunteer officers, who also lacked proper weapons, had decided anyway to go out onto the streets and try to break up the brutal beatings and riots that were occurring.

"It was only my fear to God that brought me to do it, they are all family, whether they are pro-integration or pro-independence," said Gultom, who was police chief in East Timor's capital, Dili.

"I don't want to remember what happened, if we are serious about friendship we should forget this dark period in our lives and move on," he said as he sobbed.

The 10-member commission, setup in 2005, has been sitting in towns and cities in Indonesia and East Timor since February to hear from witnesses to the violence.

Modelled along lines similar to South Africa's post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it aims at reconciliation rather than recrimination.

Militia gangs, which the United Nations has said were recruited and directed by Indonesia's military, went on an arson and killing spree before and after the East Timorese voted for independence in the 1999 UN-sponsored ballot.

They killed about 1,400 people and laid waste to much of the infrastructure in the half-island, which was a Portuguese colony before Indonesia invaded it in 1975.

Eighteen people are scheduled to testify this week at the commission sitting in Jakarta, including former military chief General Wiranto and East Timorese provincial police Inspector General Timbul Silaen.

An Indonesian rights court set up to try military officers and officials for atrocities in East Timor was widely condemned as a sham for failing to jail any Indonesians.


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