Subject: The Age update: Jakarta judges clear ex-militia leader over Timor carnage

The Age (Melbourne) April 6, 2008

Jakarta judges clear ex-militia leader over Timor carnage

FORMER militia leader Eurico Guterres — the only Indonesian jailed for the destruction of East Timor that claimed about 1500 lives in 1999 — has been acquitted by a Jakarta court.

The decision means all the men, most of them Indonesian military officers, charged by Indonesian prosecutors over the violence during the 1999 independence referendum have now been acquitted.

News of his acquittal came as the US announced it would accept the findings of an official truth commission probing killings by Indonesian troops during East Timor's break from Jakarta — despite a UN boycott of the process and criticism by human rights groups.

The Guterres decision was announced by Supreme Court judge Iskandar Kamil in Jakarta.

"We found new evidence which was enough to acquit him," the judge said. He said the "new evidence" consisted of earlier court rulings to acquit others implicated in the violence.

Another judge, Joko Sarwoko, said Mr Guterres was not proven to have "structural command" of the militia, "so he could not be held responsible for the violence".

With the acquittal, all 18 charged over the East Timor violence have been cleared.

Mr Guterres was convicted by a special court set up amid international pressure on Jakarta to prosecute those responsible for the violence.

When Indonesia rejected an international tribunal, the UN accepted Jakarta's promise to set up a credible court process that met international standards.

Mr Guterres was sentenced to 10 years jail in November 2002. After an appeal was rejected, he began serving the term in 2006.

He was nominal head of one of several militia groups set up by the Indonesian military to disrupt the UN-organised independence referendum on August 30, 1999.

When a vast majority voted for independence, the militias launched a wave of violence and destruction that forced hundreds of thousands to flee and razed 70% of the territory's buildings.

East Timor's leaders have not pressed for an international tribunal out of fear of upsetting their neighbour. Instead, in 2005 they set up the Commission of Truth and Friendship with the Jakarta Government. It is expected to present its final report in weeks, after working for months to find an account acceptable to both sides.

In Jakarta on Friday, US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said Washington would accept the commission's findings.

"If it's good enough for East Timor and Indonesia, it should be good enough for us," he said.

His comments were the strongest indication yet that the US will not allow the lack of justice over past abuses to hurt its growing ties with Indonesia.

Mr Hill is due to travel to East Timor today.

The UN boycotted the commission because of its privision to grant amnesties. Human rights advocates have dismissed it as a facade designed to ease pressure for a UN-sponsored tribunal.

-- AP, AFP with TOM HYLAND

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