|Subject: AFP/RT/ABC: Indonesia Court
Acquits Timor Ex-Army Chief
Indonesian rights court acquits general of Timor rights abuses Thu May 22, 8:13 AM ET
JAKARTA (AFP) - A state-appointed human rights court acquitted the former commander of Indonesian troops in East Timor of crimes against humanity in the territory in 1999, prompting protests by rights groups.
The "dignity and position of Brigadier General Tono Suratman should be restored to him" following the verdict, said Chief Judge Andi Samsan Nganro.
Suratman was the 11th member of the police or military to be acquitted over the savage military-backed militia violence against East Timorese independence supporters.
Suratman, a member of the Kopassus special forces, thanked the judges for "a fair trial." He encouraged soldiers, including those now mounting an assault against separatist rebels in Aceh province, never to hesitate in performing their duties.
Human rights groups have derided the court, which was set up to deflect pressure for an internationl tribunal into the bloodshed, as a sham.
Suratman was accused of having failed to prevent or control violence at a refugee-packed church in Liquica on April 6, 1999 and at a refugee-packed residence in Dili on April 17 that year.
A total of 20 people were killed at Liquica while 12 died in the attack on the residence of pro-independence leader Manuel Carrascalao in Dili.
Judge Nganro said prosecutors had not proved that any members of the armed forces who were under Suratman's command were involved in the massacres.
He said that victims who testified in court had contradicted each other over the identity of the soldiers they said had taken part.
The court has now acquitted 11 security force members and one civilian.
Five people -- two army officers, a former Dili police chief, the former civilian governor and an ex-militia chief -- have been ordered jailed. All are free pending appeals.
One general is still awaiting a verdict.
Munarman, who heads the Indonesia Legal Aid foundation, said the verdict was "not surprising."
"The construction of the ad hoc rights court is clearly aimed at trapping the perpetrators at the scene, not those who gave the command," he said.
Human rights activist Munir also said he was not surprised by the verdict on Suratman.
"The human rights trials, from the beginning, have only been the government's means to declare that high-ranking officials are immune from the law," he told AFP.
"Sure, they are being put on trial but they know from the beginning that in the end they will walk free and the civil servants and the East Timorese militia will be sacrificed."
Pro-Jakarta local militiamen organised by the Indonesian army waged a campaign of intimidation before East Timorese voted in August 1999 for independence, and a scorched-earth revenge campaign afterwards.
At least 1,000 people are estimated to have died and whole towns were burnt to the ground.
Prosecutors in East Timor have separately indicted Suratman and numerous other Indonesian officers for crimes against humanity, but Jakarta refuses to hand any of them over.
Thu May 22, 4:55 AM ET
JAKARTA (Reuters) - An Indonesian court on Thursday cleared an ex-army chief in East Timor of crimes against humanity during its bloody independence vote, a verdict one rights group said would encourage the military to act with impunity in Aceh where another separatist struggle is taking place.
Prosecutors had demanded a 10-year jail term for Brigadier-General Tono Suratman, who controlled Indonesian troops in East Timor until two weeks before the vote on August 30 that year. The charges against him carried a maximum penalty of death.
"The defendant Tono Suratman is not proven guilty of crimes against humanity as has been charged by the prosecution," Judge Andi Samsan Nganro told the court, quarter-full with members of the military's special forces.
Prosecutors said they had yet to decide whether to appeal against Thursday's ruling against Suratman, who had denied any wrongdoing and told the judge: "I sincerely and gratefully accept this verdict."
Accompanied by his family, Suratman is the penultimate of 18 suspects to face trial in Indonesia over violence in which the United Nations (news - web sites) estimates more than 1,000 people were killed.
The human rights court -- set up to hear cases over the East Timor violence -- has convicted two civilians and three security officers, including Suratman's successor.
But rights groups have criticized the large number of acquittals and said sentencings had been too lenient.
"The result of this trial would make those who rule in Aceh become more powerful and arrogant," Hendardi, head of the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association, told Reuters.
"The trial is just a show, it is meant to preserve the impunity, to protect the generals while in reality sacrificing the people down below," he added."
Indonesia launched a military offensive -- its biggest since the invasion of East Timor in 1975 -- against separatist rebels in the westernmost province of Aceh on Monday after a five-month-old peace pact failed.
Indonesia, which has tried and failed to defeat the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels many times, has 45,000 troops and police in Aceh, with more to come. GAM has about 5,000 fighters.
Aceh's four million people have long complained of rights abuses by both sides but direct their strongest criticism at the security forces.
One of the charges against Suratman related to a church massacre in the town of Liquica in April 1999 in which dozens of people were hacked to death with machetes or shot.
Pro-Jakarta militia groups, with backing from elements within the Indonesian military, carried out a campaign of intimidation before the poll and then rampaged when it showed East Timorese had voted to break away.
Major-General Adam Damiri, the last defendant on trial, is the highest ranking suspect and was regional military chief at the time, with responsibility for East Timor.
A state-appointed human rights court has acquitted the former commander of Indonesian troops in East Timor of crimes against humanity in the territory in 1999.
The chief judge found the dignity and position of Brigadier General Tono Suratman should be restored to him.
Suratman was the 11th member of the police or military to be acquitted over the military-backed violence against supporters of independence in East Timor.
He was accused of having failed to prevent or control violence at a refugee-packed church in Liquica lick-a-see-ah and at a refugee-packed residence in Dili in April, 1999.
The Judge said prosecutors had not proved that any members of the armed forces who were under Suratman's command were involved in the massacres.
A total of 20 people were killed at Liquica while 12 died in the attack on the residence of pro-independence leader, Manuel Carrascalao in Dili.
The acquittal co-incides with the third non-appearance before the court of another Indonesian general accused of rights abuses in East Timor in 1999.
The court was told Major General Adam Damiri could not appear because he was in Aceh Province, helping supervise a major military assault on separatist rebels.
The Chief judge, Marni Emmy Mustafa said the court would issue a ruling next month in the case, although it was not clear if this would amount to a verdict.
General Damiri headed the military command overseeing East Timor when its people chose to split from Indonesia in a United Nations-backed ballot in August 1999.
The landslide vote unleashed a wave of killing and destruction by gangs of pro-Jakarta militia which were backed by elements of the Indonesian military.
The rights court in Jakarta has completed 18 cases and has handed down jail sentences to five people who are free pending appeals.
Human rights groups have derided the court as a sham.
22/05/2003 22:56:05 | ABC Radio Australia News
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