Govt Expresses Regret over E. Timor Atrocities

NUSA DUA ~ The central government expressed regret this week for violence in East Timor in 1999 after accepting a report blaming it for crimes against humanity, but rejected calls for an international tribunal.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono promised to implement the recommendations made by the truth commission in its report on the months of violence, including murders and rapes, surrounding East Timor’s independence vote.

“We have conveyed our very deep regret about what happened in the past, that caused casualties and material damage,” he said as he received the report in a ceremony alongside East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta in Bali on Tuesday.

“We must learn from what happened to find out the facts over who has done what to whom, and who must be held responsible.”

But he added: “We cannot move forward and reach our dreams if we always focus our attention on the past,” a sign Indonesia wants to draw a line under the matter despite fresh calls for an international tribunal.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that he looked forward to the report’s early public release, a move he hoped would be “the first step towards achieving justice and reconciliation.”

The United Nations, which has already blamed Indonesia for the carnage and demanded that those responsible face justice, has boycotted the work of the truth commission.

An estimated 1,400 people were killed when local militias backed by the Indonesian military rampaged through East Timor as the then-province voted to break away from Indonesia, which invaded in 1975.

Until now Indonesia has always blamed the local militias, and no Indonesian commander or civilian leader has ever been successfully prosecuted.

“It’s hoped that the problem of human rights violations prior to and during the referendum has been resolved and does not need to be followed up by legal processes,” Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said.

A draft of the report obtained by the AFP news agency says Indonesia bears “institutional responsibility” for a campaign of abuses that amounted to crimes against humanity.

It said the violence was “organized and systematic” and that the Indonesian army, police and government encouraged and even participated in crimes including murder, forced displacement, illegal detention and rape.

“Viewed as a whole, these attacks constituted an organized campaign of violence,” it said, without naming any of the organizers.

Ramos-Horta said East Timor was not seeking an international tribunal to punish those responsible.

“Justice is not and cannot be only prosecutorial in the sense of sending people to jail. Justice must also be restorative,” he said.

“We as leaders of our people must lead our nations forward.”

But people in Dili who suffered under Indonesian repression were not so forgiving.

“They arrested and tortured Timorese people. All the generals must be held responsible. They must be brought to justice,” said Dili resident Jose Xavier Amaral, 32, who was tortured for nine days by pro-Indonesian forces in 1999.

The only person ever jailed over the violence, militia leader Eurico Guterres, was cleared of involvement by Indonesia’s Supreme Court in April.

Former Indonesian armed forces chief Wiranto, indicted by UN prosecutors in 2003 for crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the violence, is making a second run at Indonesia’s presidency in next year’s elections.

The truth commission, set up in 2005, did not name names and has no prosecution powers.

Rights activists said its findings should lead to criminal investigations and prosecutions.

“Those who committed crimes against humanity throughout Indonesia’s invasion and occupation of East Timor must be identified and prosecuted,” a coalition of East Timor human rights groups said in a joint statement.

The commission found that pro-independence groups also committed crimes but pro-Indonesian militias were the “primary” perpetrators.

East Timor, which was a Portuguese colony before Indonesia invaded in 1975, finally gained formal independence in May 2002.

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