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Tuesday, 11 December, 2001, 12:50 GMT
E Timor militiamen convicted
Militiamen in East Timor
Pro-Jakarta militias killed more than 1,000 people
A United Nations tribunal has handed down its first verdict of crimes against humanity in connection with the violence that tore through East Timor in 1999.

The international community shall not tolerate such violations of law and human rights

Judge Marcelo da Costa

Ten members of a pro-Indonesian militia were sentenced to jail terms of up to 33 years for one of the worst atrocities committed during the territory's vote for independence.

The men belonged to the notorious Tim Alpha gang, one of many brutal militias created by the Indonesian military in an attempt to block the vote.

In September 1999, they ambushed an aid convoy and murdered nine people, including two nuns, three priests and an Indonesian journalist.

Correspondents say the verdict is an historic first step in bringing those responsible for the carnage to justice, despite the continuing refusal of the Indonesian government to extradite members of its military.

Mass murder

More than 1,000 people were slaughtered by pro-Jakarta militias after the territory voted for independence in a UN-sponsored ballot.

Destroyed huts, East Timor
The militias pursued a scorched earth policy

The territory's infrastructure was also systematically destroyed to hamper efforts by the East Timorese to establish a functioning homeland.

Although there have been individual convictions for murder, torture and rape, Tuesday's verdict was the first for crimes against humanity.

"The international community shall not tolerate such violations of law and human rights," Brazilian judge Marcelo da Costa told the courthouse in the East Timorese capital, Dili.

Mr da Costa heads the three-judge Special Panel for Serious Crimes set up by East Timor's UN-backed transitional administration.

Peaceful elections were held in August, and the administration will run the territory until full independence next year.

map of East Timor

The panel, which also comprises a judge from East Timor and another from Burundi, also convicted the militiamen of crimes including torture, forced deportation and persecution.

Three of the group were sentenced to jail terms of 33 years and the others were given sentences ranging from four to 23 years.

The Special Panel is still processing some 700 murder cases, but correspondents say the total could be higher.

No military extradition

Reports say that an 11th member of the gang, an Indonesian special forces officer, has been indicted but authorities in Jakarta have blocked his extradition.

The Indonesian government has promised to set up a tribunal to try members of the military suspected of war crimes, but it has so far failed to do so.

Indonesia launched its bloody invasion of East Timor in 1975, which Jakarta followed with 24 years of repressive rule.

Former separatist guerrilla leader Xanana Gusmao
Xanana Gusmao will run for president next year

Newly-released state documents have shown the United States gave the green light for the invasion.

The veteran independence party, Fretilin, which battled Indonesian rule from the beginning, finally won the territory's first democratic elections in August.

It is now the largest party in the newly-formed constituent assembly.

Fretilin leader Xanana Gusmao, widely expected to become the territory's first elected president, has reportedly accepted 20 May as independence day.

Meanwhile, reports say three more Indonesians were charged in Jakarta with murdering a UN peacekeeper last year.

The men appeared in court to face charges in the murder of Private Leonard Manning, a New Zealand soldier on duty in East Timor.

The BBC's Jonathan Head
"The Indonesian Government has so far failed to set up its own tribunal"
See also:

30 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Timor's historic vote
27 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
East Timor's first election
07 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
US 'endorsed East Timor invasion'
27 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
UN indicts E Timor massacre suspects
31 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Timor's legacy of trauma
10 Feb 00 | Asia-Pacific
Timor militia leader arrested
17 Feb 00 | Asia-Pacific
Shadowy militias of East Timor
30 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Timeline: East Timor's 25 turbulent years
24 Aug 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: East Timor
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