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Thursday, 14 March, 2002, 06:13 GMT
Indonesia begins landmark trial
Demonstration outside courthouse
Pro-military supporters called for an end to the trial
Indonesia has taken the historic step of opening a human rights tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the violence in East Timor in 1999 when the former Indonesian province voted for independence.

The first defendant to appear was the former governor of the territory, Abilio Soares, who sat impassively as the prosecution read out the charges against him.

General Wiranto
Wiranto is conspicuously absent from the list
He was accused of being responsible for massive human rights violations carried out by his subordinates and for failing to take proper action to stop the killing.

He is also charged with being behind the anti-independence militias which are widely believed to have been responsible for much of the violence.

East Timor's former police chief, Timbul Silaen, was subsequently accused of similar crimes.

At least 1,000 people died and many of the towns and villages were razed to the ground in the violence widely believed to have been orchestrated by the Indonesian military and government.

Former governor Abilio Soares
Soares sat impassively through the indictment
The prosecution are focusing on several specific attacks both before and after the UN-sponsored referendum, including massacres at two churches and at the home of Dili Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo.

After many delays and doubts whether these trials would ever go ahead, the first cases have begun.

The justice and human rights minister Yusril Mahendra said he was satisfied that judges and prosecutors were ready for what was a momentous day in Indonesian legal history.

But one of the main defence lawyers told the BBC he believes they have a strong defence against all the charges as the accused were only carrying out duties asked of them by the government.

Conspicuous absences

Mentioned in indictment
Attack on refugees at church in Suai - 22 killed and 21 injured
Attack on residence of pro-independence activist Manuel Carrascalao - 12 killed and four injured
Attack on refugees in Dili diocese - 46 killed
Attack on refugees at Bishop Belo's residence - 10 killed and one injured
Attack on refugees at Ave Maria church, Suai - 25 killed
Up to 100 pro-military demonstrators gathered outside the courthouse, with posters declaring that the trials were "unfair" and "held on the orders of Australia and the United States".

In total 18 government officials and members of the security forces are due to stand trial for crimes against humanity committed in East Timor three years ago.

Amongst them are three generals, the former provincial governor and leaders of the militia gangs, widely believed to have been responsible for much of the violence.

But conspicuously absent from the list is General Wiranto, the armed forces chief at the time the East Timorese voted for independence.

The prosecutors will be focusing on a number of specific attacks on independent supporters including massacres at two churches.

Political will

Megawati Sukarnoputri
Megawati: Question of political will
BBC Jakarta correspondent Richard Galpin says the international community will watch these trials closely to see if justice really is done or whether the verdicts are manipulated to protect senior officers.

The key issue is whether the government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri has the political will to administer justice.

If not, demands for an international tribunal could be revived.

However, our correspondent says, the very fact that it is under way does indicate that the government is more serious about the trials than anyone would have believed a few months ago.

The BBC's Alan Little
"Many human rights groups are deeply sceptical about the process"
See also:

14 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Tribunal test for Indonesia
21 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
East Timor launches truth commission
01 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
UN renews support for East Timor
29 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Gusmao 'agrees' date for independence
21 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: East Timor
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