|Subject: AP: Indonesia Trials: Hope of
The Associtaed Press March 14, 2002
Indonesia Trials: Hope of Justice
By JOANNA JOLLY
DILI, East Timor (AP) - Manuel Carrascalo watched helplessly as a militia gang broke into his home and hacked his son and 11 others to death with machetes shortly before East Timor residents voted to break free from Indonesian rule in 1999.
Hundreds were killed and thousands made homeless and displaced in a campaign of terror and violence.
Three years later, Carrascalo and the rest of East Timor hope unprecedented trials, two of which began Thursday against Indonesian officials and military officers for crimes against humanity, will deliver justice.
``I'm happy the trials have started,'' the 67-year-old politician told The Associated Press. ``I hope (the perpetrators) get the death penalty.''
Foreign observers and rights activists were present in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, to monitor the opening of the trials Thursday. The international community, including the United Nations which is now helping East Timor prepare for full independence in May, has demanded that Indonesia punish those responsible.
But human rights groups were skeptical.
``The judges are not qualified and the charges may have loopholes,'' said Hendardi, the head of Indonesia's Legal Aid Association, said of the country's judicial system. Like many Indonesians, he uses only one name.
The region's former governor Abilio Soares and police chief Gen. Timbul Silaen were the first two defendants Thursday to face the Jakarta Central Court. In separate sessions, prosecutors accused both of allowing men under their command to commit widespread and systematic murder of civilians. If convicted, they could be sentenced to death.
In the days before his trial, Silaen joked to reporters that he regarded the matter as about as serious as a university examination.
The United Nations administration in East Timor said the trials were ``a step forward.''
U.N. officials have told Jakarta that if those responsible for the bloodshed do not face justice in Indonesian courts, an international war crimes tribunal, akin to those established for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, may be convened.
Both of Thursday's court sessions heard how militiamen and government officials armed with knives, samurai swords and homemade weapons conducted massacres of 117 people who had taken refuge in churches and homes of religious leaders after an August 1999 referendum that endorsed East Timorese independence.
Indonesia invaded East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, in 1975 and was reluctant to give it up 24 years later.
The results of the U.N.-supervised vote unleashed a wave of revenge from pro-Indonesian groups that prosecutors allege were linked to Indonesia's military and government. The violence only stopped when international peacekeepers arrived weeks later.
By then hundreds were dead, hundreds of thousands had fled their homes and much of Dili and other towns were reduced to ashes and rubble.
``The defendant (Soares) knew of and ignored information that grave human rights abuses were taking place,'' state prosecutor I Ketut Murtika said.
After formal charges were read, Soares said he could not be held responsible for the bloodshed. ``It was just a mass brawl,'' he said.