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Thursday, 15 August, 2002, 08:51 GMT 09:51 UK
East Timor police chief acquitted
Mass grave found in Suai, November 1999
Pro-Jakarta militias killed about 1,000 Timorese
Indonesia's last police chief in East Timor has been cleared of charges of gross human rights violations during violence that gripped the territory at the time of the referendum on independence three years ago.

This is the second shock verdict in two days by the human rights tribunals in Jakarta hearing cases against former officials in East Timor, says the BBC's Richard Galpin in Jakarta.

Five police and army officers were also acquitted of human rights violations on Thursday.

On Wednesday, former governor Abilio Soares was sentenced to three years in jail after being convicted of human rights violations committed under his rule.

There was no proof that his (Silaen's) policies backed the violence

Presiding judge

But the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson has expressed concern about the handling of the Soares case, saying prosecutors had failed to present the violence as part of a systematic campaign.

According to UN estimates, more than 1,000 people were killed in East Timor during the violence surrounding the territory's vote for independence on 30 August 1999.

The former Portuguese colony was formally declared independent in May when the UN handed over power to former guerrilla leader Xanana Gusmao after presidential elections.

'Neutral'

Former police chief Timbul Silaen was acquitted of charges of failing to control his subordinates and take measures to halt violence in various towns of East Timor in 1999.

It had not been proven that General Silaen had ignored information that abuses were taking place or that his subordinates had taken part in any human rights violations, the judges decided.

Mary Robinson
Robinson says prosecutors have got it wrong
"There was no proof that his policies backed the violence. At that time the function of the police could not be performed properly and control had been shifted to the military," said presiding judge Andi Samsan Nganro.

The defendant had acted according to the law throughout 1999 and had remained neutral trying to bring peace and order, the court said.

Family members and fellow policemen burst into cheers and applause when the verdict was read out.

General Silaen said he had obtained justice and that his trial had been fair.

Correspondents say the verdict in the case was seen as a barometer of Indonesia's ability to bring to justice the perpetrators of the bloodshed that provoked widespread international condemnation.

Prominent human rights lawyer Frans Hendra Winarta told Reuters news agency: "This verdict... will cause outcry in the international community - we're talking about a human rights tribunal and this is the result?".

A court in Jakarta also found one police officer and four army officers not guilty of charges related to a massacre in a church in the town of Suai a week after the independence vote in 1999.

"We are very touched by the court's decision which has shown truth and justice," said retired army Col. Herman Sedyono, one of the defendants.

"We are religious people. How can we commit murder or allow other people to commit murder?"

Scapegoat

On Wednesday, former governor Abilio Soares - a Timorese - was found guilty of failing to prevent violence involving his subordinates.

But his three year jail sentence fell well short of prosecutors' demands for more than 10 years.

Timbul Silaen in court
The former police chief was accused of failing to stop massacres
The presiding judge said Soares had been given a lighter sentence because of a call for leniency from Xanana Gusmao.

Soares claimed he was being made a scapegoat, and intends to appeal.

In her response issued in Geneva, Mrs Robinson said prosecutors had "not put before the court evidence that portrays the killings and other human rights violations as part of a widespread or systematic pattern of violence."

Mrs Robinson also said a UN court in East Timor had established that Indonesian soldiers had "planned, carried out and directed" pro-Indonesian militias to launch attacks against civilians.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Richard Galpin
"Human Rights Watch describes all this as 'a mockery of justice'"
East Timor's UK representative Jose Amorim
"The trial...marks a departure from the old system"

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See also:

14 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
23 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
10 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
13 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
14 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
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