Indonesia, E. Timor to Extend Truth Commission

JAKARTA ~ Jakarta and Dili have agreed to extend the mandate of a joint commission set up to investigate violence surrounding East Timor’s 1999 independence vote, visiting East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta said.

The Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF) was established to determine the truth about the unrest but has no judicial powers or authority to bring people to court.

“We will continue the process of the CTF until its conclusion. We have agreed to extend (its mandate) by another six months,” Ramos-Horta told journalists at the palace after meeting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Tuesday.

The commission set up in 2005 is aimed at reconciliation along the lines of South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“The important thing is that we do not allow ourselves to be hostage of the past but we look forward with courage,” Ramos-Horta said.

Ramos-Horta, on his first state visit overseas after winning last month’s presidential election, added that it would set a precedent for other countries to deal with similar situations.

“Both of our governments… agreed and are committed to solving our past problems based on the principles of truth, friendship and reconciliation and not justice in this context,” Yudhoyono said at the same occasion.

With the extension of its mandate, the commission will be able to function until July 2008 as the commission chairman has said it needed more time to hear from witnesses and experts.

The commission has held several hearings to hear testimony from survivors of the violence, witnesses, experts and people believed to be involved in the events in 1999.

Militia gangs – which the United Nations says 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, a Portuguese colony before Indonesia invaded in 1975.

An Indonesian rights court set up to put military officers and officials on trial over atrocities was widely condemned as a sham for failing to jail any Indonesians.

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