Subject: Ramos Horta cuts jail terms for militia

The Age

23 May 2008

Ramos Horta cuts jail terms for militia

East Timor's president has slashed the jail sentences of several pro-Indonesia militia who murdered people during the violence that followed the 1999 vote for independence.

The sentence cuts are among 94 partial or full pardons handed out by Jose Ramos Horta to mark the tiny nation's sixth anniversary of independence this week.

Among those on the list is Joni Marques, the leader of the Team Alfa militia, who will have his remaining jail term cut in half.

Marques was jailed for 33 years in 2001 by the Special Panel of Dili District Court, in the country's first trial for crimes against humanity.

His crimes included several murders, including of a group of nine people comprised of several Roman Catholic priests and nuns and an Indonesian journalist, near the eastern town of Los Palos, in 1999.

He was also convicted of the forcible transfer or deportation of the civilian population and persecution and torture.

It is the second time Marques' sentence has been cut.

In 2004, then president Xanana Gusmao shaved almost nine years off his sentence and those of militia members Paulo and Joao da Costa, who were also jailed over the crimes.

The two da Costa brothers have also had their sentences cut in half in this round of pardons, along with former Sakunar militia member Mateus Lao, aka Ena Pato.

Lao was jailed for eight years in 2004 for murder as a crime against humanity, after killing a man who was trying to flee to West Timor with his family during the 1999 violence.

The presidential decree also confirms the sentence cut of former government minister Rogerio Lobato who gave weapons to civilians during the violence that destabilised the nation in 2006.

Lobato's sentence of more than seven years will be sliced in half.

Lobato has only served about five months of his sentence as he was allowed to fly to Malaysia last August for medical treatment and is yet to return.

The presidential decree - formally gazetted this week - says the granting of clemency is dependent on "good prison behaviour".

President Ramos Horta - who has only recently returned to East Timor after he was shot outside his Dili home - flagged the pardons last month, saying East Timor needed to foster a culture of forgiveness in order to move forward.

The decree states that East Timor's anniversary of independence commemorated the Timorese belief in humankind.

"Believing in the human person ... (in order) to cultivate mercy and tolerance, we extend our hand to help the next person to arise after he has fallen in his dignity," the document says.

But president of the minority pro-justice party PUN, Fernanda Borges, said many East Timorese were unhappy about the cuts.

"I don't think militia should be given a pardon at this stage," she said.

Borges said the process was flawed, with no clear criteria on who is eligible for clemency and no transparency.

"There are no systems in place to judge whether the person has behaved, whether the person has contributed to giving further information to help the judicial process and what the victims' response to this is," she said.

"There are also a lot of trials pending - both for the 1999 cases as well as for the 2006 crisis - what implications will this have on those future trials in East Timor?

"All this needs to be weighed very carefully so that we don't create a perception ... that there is impunity in this country.

"That you can do whatever you want, you can kill people, have human rights violations ... and get away with it and be pardoned by the president."

The United Nations said justice was vital to the future of East Timor, which faced issues of impunity and deterrence.

"The view of the UN is that justice is essential for stability and peace," a spokeswoman for the head of the mission, Atul Khare, said.

However, the granting of pardons was within the powers of the president, she said.

In the case of former minister Lobato, the spokeswoman noted his cooperation with the judicial process so far.

"(Mr Khare) hopes that Mr Lobato will continue such cooperation, including by refraining from any action that might affect the fragility of society," she said.

"This would include, for example, refraining from running for public office."

The sentence cuts come as the controversial East Timor-Indonesia "truth" commission prepares to hand down its final report into the 1999 violence.

The Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF) was established by the two countries in a bid to establish a "conclusive truth" about the 1999 violence to help repair relations.

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