Tuesday, March 14, 2006

East Timor militia chief to be jailed

"THE militia leader who incited his followers to kill East Timorese independence supporters in 1999 will be the first person punished over the violence after Indonesia's Supreme Court upheld his conviction for crimes against humanity yesterday.

In a surprise decision that may indicate a change of thinking at the highest levels in Indonesia, the court found Eurico Guterres guilty and increased his sentence to 10 years in jail.

Having been free pending his appeal, Guterres, 34, who led the feared Aitarak (Thorn) militia, could be jailed within weeks, officials said.

Informed of the decision, Guterres admitted yesterday he was involved in crushing the independence movement in East Timor. "But I am not the one who created the situation," he said. "Everyone who was there, the police, the military, everyone was charged. But in the process everyone was freed. It only left me."

Guterres and his supporters had been confident the judiciary would continue its earlier trend of overturning convictions and upholding acquittals.

Yet a 2500-page UN-sanctioned report on East Timor released earlier this year, which found the Indonesian invasion responsible for as many as 180,000 East Timorese deaths, has again focused international attention on Indonesia's lacklustre approach to crimes against humanity in East Timor.

Indonesia and East Timor have also launched a Truth and Friendship Commission to investigate the atrocities of 1999, but it will have no power to punish the guilty.

Convicted by the ad hoc East Timor war crimes tribunal that Indonesia was forced to establish following intense international pressure, Guterres was first sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2002. On appeal to the High Court, the sentence was reduced to five years, but the Supreme Court yesterday re-instated the original sentence.

The native East Timorese has also been indicted for crimes against humanity by the UN-backed Serious Crimes Unit in East Timor.

As the chief militia leader in East Timor's capital, Dili, in 1999, Guterres's orders were followed with gusto. Immediately after his vicious speech at a pro-autonomy rally, he led his gang to attack the house of pro-independence leader Manuel Carrascalao. Twelve people were killed, including Carrascalao's 17-year-old son.

At the Supreme Court yesterday, Mansyur Effendi, one of the five judges on the Guterres case, said he had dissented because he believed the militia leader should be found innocent.

"In front of the Carrascalao house there were also soldiers and police," he said. "And there were also people who said Guterres' speech wasn't as harsh as it has been quoted."

Professor Effendi said the state bore some responsibility, and the judges should have taken into account the fact that all the others accused of crimes against humanity in East Timor had been acquitted.

As the chief of one of the most savage militias in East Timor, Guterres was directly involved in the carnage in the months before and after the independence ballot.

Lauded as a nationalist hero by some prominent Indonesians, and elected last month as regional chairman of one Indonesia's larger political parties, Guterres has in the past said his conviction for war crimes was "no problem".

More than 1500 East Timorese died in the violence. East Timorese towns were razed and as many as 250,000 people were forcibly transported to Indonesia. None of the militia leaders have been punished for the crimes of 1999.

In 2001, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Indonesia should move "quickly and decisively against Guterres".

The Supreme Court also upheld the acquittal of General Noer Muis, the former military chief in East Timor in 1999."

Source: The Australian (from UNOTIL Public Information Office, Daily Media Review)
Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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