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Thursday, 31 January, 2002, 12:32 GMT
E Timor rights court installed
Pro-Jakarta militias in Dili, 1999
More than 1,000 people are thought to have died
Indonesia has officially inaugurated the human rights court that will try military officers and others for atrocities in East Timor following the territory's independence vote in 1999.

Eleven judges, most of them university law professors, have been sworn in and will join 12 career judges already appointed.

Indonesia has been under international pressure to proceed with the trials of at least 18 army leaders and militiamen accused of widespread killings by pro-Indonesian forces in East Timor.

No trial dates have been set.

A US-based legal group has expressed doubts over the trials, saying only an international tribunal could deliver justice.

In a statement, an international group of lawyers and legal scholars said: "Given the current political climate in Indonesia, convictions of high-level military personnel seem unlikely."

International fears

There has already been criticism from some quarters at the decision by the attorney-general's office not to prosecute the then-defence minister and armed forces chief General Wiranto, despite suggestions by human rights groups that he was morally responsible for the violence.

East Timorese refugees return home after being forced into Indonesian-ruled West Timor, 1999
Hundreds of thousands fled or were forced into West Timor
Earlier this month General Wiranto criticised the forthcoming trials and said his soldiers had done nothing wrong.

Supreme Court Justice Bagir Manan swore in the new judges on Thursday, telling reporters afterwards: "I can guarantee that the judicial system will be independent because the judges have high moral integrity."

But he acknowledged that if the tribunal was not satisfactory, the cases could be brought before an international war crimes tribunal.

New country

East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia in August 1999, sparking a bloody rampage by pro-Jakarta militias. The United Nations estimates more than 1,000 people were killed but Indonesia has not yet carried out any prosecutions.

Refugees following Australian peacekeeping soldier
International soldiers were sent in as peacekeepers
In December, a United Nations tribunal in East Timor sentenced 10 members of pro-Indonesian militia to jail terms of up to 33 years for human rights atrocities.

East Timor is under UN administration, but is due to become a fully independent nation on 20 May, following presidential elections.

Indonesian Justice and Human Rights Minister Yusril Ihza Mahendra said the first of the Jakarta trials would be "in not too long a time".

He said the court had adopted international humanitarian laws on crimes against humanity, torture and genocide.

See also:

09 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Wiranto attacks Timor trials as 'unfair'
03 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Indonesia backs East Timor trial
11 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
E Timor militiamen convicted
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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