Subject: East Timor government survives no-confidence vote

also VOA and AFP

East Timor government survives no-confidence vote


Associated Press

2009-10-12 10:40 PM

East Timor's government survived a no-confidence vote Monday called after it released, at Indonesia's request, an alleged militia leader accused of orchestrating the slayings of women, children and priests in a church a decade ago.

The opposition Fretilin party put forward the motion in the parliament to protest Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao's Aug. 30 order to set Maternus Bere free. The U.N. has a warrant out for Bere, who is accused of crimes against humanity, including persecution, forced disappearances, torture, extermination and abduction.

The Supreme Court believes his release violated the constitution and has launched an investigation.

After a day of heated debate, the proposal to dissolve Gusmao's Cabinet failed in the 65-seat house. It received 25 votes in favor and 38 against, house speaker Fernando de Araujo said.

Gusmao, an independence-era icon who began his five-year-term in August 2007, told the legislature earlier Monday that he was ready to accept responsibility for Bere's release. Following Gusmao's order, Bere was handed over to the Indonesian Embassy, where he remains.

"It was purely a political decision for our good relationship with Indonesia," Gusmao said.

The case is a test for the infant nation, highlighting the continuing challenge of establishing an independent and viable judiciary in the wake of its 2002 break from hundreds of years of colonialism, including rule by Indonesia and Portugal. While the political challenge has been diminished, Gusmao could still face legal proceedings in the Supreme Court.

"Prime Minister Gusmao will remain in power until 2012 because the deputies have placed their trust in you," de Araujo said after the late night session.

Fretilin's motion contended that the government's decision to free Bere violated the constitution because a court is the only authority with the power to release a prisoner. Gusmao "disrespected the constitution, the judicial process, and parliament," Fretilin lawmaker Inacio Moreira said during a debate. "That's why we don't trust you."

East Timor is enjoying relative stability after assassination attempts against its leaders in early 2008. Even those who opposed Bere's release may have voted against the bill for fear of disrupting the peace.

An Indonesian national, Bere had been living freely in Indonesia until his arrest on Aug. 8 after crossing into East Timor for a family gathering.

Bere is one of the alleged leaders of the 1999 Suai massacre, when pro-Indonesia militias killed dozens and possibly hundreds of people sheltering in the village during the bloody aftermath of East Timor's referendum for independence that left at least 1,000 people dead.

Preparations for his trial were under way when he was handed over to the Indonesian Embassy as East Timor marked the 10th anniversary of the historic Aug. 30 vote for independence, in which the nation of 1.1 million chose to break from Indonesia after 24 years of occupation.

Bere is still at the embassy waiting for documents to be processed so he can be returned to Indonesia, Gusmao said.

Human rights groups say the handover demonstrated the weakness of the judiciary and that giving in to the political demands of powerful neighbor Indonesia undermined democratic institutions.

The United Nations has expressed concern and called for East Timor's leaders to abide by international law. Arrest warrants issued by a U.N.-backed serious crimes unit, including the one for Bere, are outstanding for nearly 400 suspects in the 1999 violence, but East Timor has favored reconciliation rather than prosecution.


Voice of America

East Timor Government Survives No-Confidence Vote

By Brian Padden


13 October 2009

Although East Timor's government has survived a no-confidence motion in parliament, there still is considerable anger over the prime minister's decision to release a pro-Indonesia militia leader charged with war crimes. This crisis is another test for a fledgling democracy.

Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao addressed the East Timor Parliament for more than two hours to defend his decision to release Maternus Bere.

Bere is accused of crimes against humanity in East Timor. He allegedly was one of the leaders of pro-Indonesia militias involved in a 1999 massacre in which scores of people were killed before East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia. It was part of a wave of militia violence that left over 1,000 dead in East Timor.

An Indonesian national, Bere had been living in Indonesia until his arrest on August 8th, after he entered East Timor for a family gathering. He was charged and trial preparations began. But on August 30, the 10th anniversary of East Timor's vote for independence, Bere was handed over to the Indonesian Embassy.

Angry opposition politicians filed a no-confidence motion. After 12 hours of debate, it was voted down late Monday night.

Charles Scheiner is a researcher with La'o Hamtuk, organization that monitors democracy and development in East Timor or Timor Leste, the country's name in the Portuguese language. He followed the debate and says the prime minister claimed sole responsibility for the decision and was unapologetic.

"His basic theme was that his determination of what is in the national interest of Timor Leste, which has to do with maintaining a good relationship with the Indonesian government, is more important than legal technicalities or provisions of the constitution," Scheiner said.

Scheiner agrees with the opposition argument that the prime minister abused his power and interfered with the operation of an independent judiciary.

"You just cannot spring somebody because the prime minister thinks it is the diplomatic requirement," Scheiner noted. "The constitution very clearly says in Timor Leste, as in the United States and many other countries, the judicial system is independent and is not up to political officials, elected officials or government officials to override the laws and the constitutional priorities of the court system."

But the opposition could not persuade enough members of parliament to agree. The motion to dissolve Mr. Gusmao's Cabinet failed by a vote of 25 in favor and 38 against.

Scheiner says the victory for the prime minister is not a total loss for democracy. The debate ended peacefully and not in armed conflict or assassination attempts, as has happened here in the past.

But the matter is not dead; the Supreme Court is investigating whether the prime minister, in releasing Bere, violated the constitution.

This incident could become a major issue in the 2012 elections in East Timor, where one third of the people had family members killed during the Indonesian occupation.


East Timor govt survives no-confidence vote

Tue Oct 13, 6:09 AM

DILI (AFP) - East Timor's opposition stayed on the offensive Tuesday after the government survived a no-confidence vote over its decision to free an Indonesian militia leader accused of crimes against humanity. ADVERTISEMENT

Members of the opposition Fretilin party and its allies brought the motion before the house, accusing the government of Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao of breaking the law by releasing militia leader Martenus Bere from custody.

After a fiery day-long debate which was broadcast on national television, MPs voted late Monday by a margin of 39 to 25 against the motion, officials said.

Had it succeeded, President Jose Ramos-Horta could have dissolved parliament and called an election, a remote prospect given his support for the government's policy of leniency toward rights abusers of the past.

Fretilin lawmaker Arsenio Bano said MPs were scared to censure the government over the Bere affair, which has drawn criticism from the United Nations and independent rights groups like Amnesty International.

"They refused to censure the ... prime minister despite his public admission, repeated several times to parliament yesterday, that he ordered the release of Martenus Bere," Bano said in a statement.

Former prime minister Mari Alkatiri led the charge against the government, saying Bere's release less than a month after his arrest in August was unconstitutional and undermined East Timor's independence.

Bere was arrested after crossing into East Timor on August 8, five years after being indicted for his role in a string of human rights violations including the 1999 Suai church massacre in which up to 200 people were killed.

Gusmao, who led East Timor's resistance against Indonesian rule before its 1999 vote for independence, defended freeing Bere as a "political decision" that was "in the national interest".

Bere has stayed at the Indonesian embassy in the capital Dili since his August 30 release.

Government MPs argued his release was necessary to prevent reprisals against Timorese studying in Indonesia, and said a trial would have done nothing to improve reconciliation between the two countries.

Gusmao and Nobel prize laureate Ramos-Horta insist that building cordial ties with Indonesia is more important than dwelling on its crimes, despite UN calls for an international tribunal.

Indonesia's brutal 24-year occupation of East Timor ended with bloody violence by Indonesian troops and their militia proxies who opposed the 1999 UN-backed independence vote.

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