Subject: Joint truth commission extends work period, questioning yet to begin

Timor truth commission extends work period, questioning yet to begin

Jakarta - A joint Indonesia-East Timor commission has had a deadline extended for completing its probe into atrocities committed during East Timor's independence vote, its co-chairman said Monday.

The Commission of Truth and Friendship is looking into documents from previous investigations and court proceedings to establish the truth about the violence, said Benyamin Mangkoedilaga of Indonesia.

The body was set up last August and originally had an extendable work period of one year. Its mandate includes questioning those with knowledge of what occurred during the small nation's 1999 independence vote.

"We have 10 (more) months to reach a final conclusion. We have to finish before May 2007 because we want to avoid handing our report to a new government" in East Timor, he told AFP after a commission monthly meeting.

East Timor is due to hold an election in May.

"It's been extended," Mangkoedilaga said when asked about the one-year working period.

Commission spokesman Chalief Akbar said it was delving into reports including those compiled by an team set up by Indonesia's human rights body in 2000, the Timor-based Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation, the UN Serious Crimes Unit and documents from Indonesia's human rights court.

"We will soon question officials and people whom we think know about what happened in 1999," Akbar said.

The truth commission, comprised of five Indonesians and five East Timorese, is not a judicial body and will submit its findings to both governments.

Modelled along lines similar to South Africa's post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it aims at reconciliation.

Militia gangs, which the United Nations has said were recruited and directed by Indonesia's military, went on an arson and killing spree before and after the East Timorese voted for independence in a UN-sponsored ballot.

They killed about 1,400 people and laid waste to much of the infrastructure in the half-island, which was a Portuguese colony before Indonesia invaded it in 1975.

An Indonesian rights court set up to try military officers and officials for atrocities in East Timor was widely condemned as a sham for failing to jail any Indonesians.

A militia leader, Eurico Guterres, is the sole person serving a jail term for his role.

Agence France Presse

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