Subject: AP: E. Timor Court Sentences Ex-Militia Leader To Prison

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

East Timorese Court Sentences Ex-Militia Leader To Prison

DILI, East Timor, Aug. 12 (AP)--An East Timorese court Tuesday sentenced a former militia leader to eight years and eight months in prison for ordering a bloody attack on civilians during the country's break from Indonesia in 1999.

Joao Sarmento, who led the notorious Tim Ablai militia, pleaded guilty to three charges of murder and forced deportation of civilians during the violence that swept East Timor before and after it voted for independence in a U.N.-sponsored ballot.

Indonesia's military formed the Ablai militia and others like it to intimidate the East Timorese into voting for continued union with Jakarta.

Aided by the army, the militias killed more than 1,000 people before, during and after the ballot. The violence only stopped when international peacekeepers arrived.

Most militia members fled to neighboring Indonesian-held West Timor after Indonesian troops withdrew from their former province.

Sarmento was captured by Australian peacekeepers at the border in Suai district on March 13, 2001. He was charged with ordering the killings of three men during raids on villages in Manufahi district and with forcibly deporting thousands of civilians to West Timor.

After the sentence was read, Sarmento said he would appeal.

"I do not deserve such a harsh sentence because all the people who forced me to commit these crimes are not standing trial. They are all in Indonesia," he said.

Prosecutors at East Timor's Serious Crimes Unit have so far indicted 301 people in the violence. These include 85 Indonesian army and police officers, including senior commanders. Since trials began in 2001, 35 defendants have been convicted.

About 70% of those charged remain at large in Indonesia, whose army-backed government has refused to extradite them.

In an apparent effort to defuse international condemnation and calls for a special U.N. human rights tribunal, Jakarta organized its own series of trials of 18 senior military and police officials allegedly involved in the violence in East Timor.

Only six of the defendants were convicted, and all remain free pending appeals. The verdicts have been condemned as a whitewash by international human rights groups, and the European Union and U.S. have both criticized Jakarta over the outcomes of the trials.

-Edited by Lena Lee

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