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Thursday, 15 August, 2002, 16:26 GMT 17:26 UK
Outrage over East Timor verdicts
One policeman and four army officers await verdicts
Critics say Indonesia has turned its back on justice
An Indonesian court's decision to acquit officials accused of human rights abuses in East Timor has provoked outrage among members of human rights groups, the United Nations and East Timor's Government.

On Thursday a special tribunal cleared Indonesia's last police chief in East Timor, Timbo Salaen and five other officials of any wrongdoing in the bloodshed that engulfed the former Indonesian territory in 1999.

Amnesty International and the Judicial System Monitoring Programme called the ruling a "grave disappointment", and urged the UN to consider putting the case before an international tribunal.
East Timor's former police chief Timbul Silaen
Acquitted: former police chief Timbul Silaen

"The trials were seriously flawed, have not been performed in accordance with international standards and have delivered neither truth nor justice," they said in a joint statement.

Rights groups said they had never held out much hope of the trial being handled impartially.

"From the beginning, there was a lot of doubt about the court proceedings," said Aniceto Neves, who heads the rights group Yayasan HAK, in the East Timorese capital, Dili. "East Timorese no longer believe in the justice system in Indonesia."

At least 1,000 East Timorese are believed to have died in the violence surrounding the territory's 1999 referendum on independence from Indonesia.

'Short' sentence

The tribunal has already come under fire for sentencing East Timor's former governor, Abilio Soares, to just three years in prison.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson accused Indonesian prosecutors of failing to present enough evidence against Mr Soares.

Prosecutors were seeking a 10 years and six months sentence for him.

Former East Timor Governor Abilio Soares
Jailed for three years: former Governor Abilio Soares
UN sources said the matter is now likely to be raised with the New York headquarters of Secretary General Kofi Annan and the issue of launching an international criminal tribunal for East Timor - similar to that trying former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes - is also set to move up the agenda.


The tribunals were set up last year following international pressure for Jakarta to punish those responsible for the bloodshed that followed the 30 August 1999 vote on the territory's future.

Former police chief Timbul Silaen - who had been responsible for security in East Timor during the independence referendum - was acquitted of all charges, including failure to control his subordinates and take measures to halt violence.

Relatives of pro-independence supporter Adlinda da Silva, 24, grieve over his body  (file photo)
Victims: 1,000 people were killed in the 1999 violence, according to the UN
Prosecutors had accused him of failing to prevent anti-independence militiamen and policemen from storming a church at Liquica, west of Dili, and killing at least 18 people. They also linked him to deadly attacks on UN and church offices and the homes of two pro-independence leaders.

Five lower-ranking army and police officers were also acquitted of charges of allowing men under their command to commit atrocities, in particular a massacre in the border town of Suai which left more than 20 people dead, including three priests.

Amnesty International, which along with the UN believes prosecutors ignored a mass of strong evidence, said the tribunals had been deeply flawed from the beginning. Instead, large numbers of witnesses were called - most of them military or police

The trials of another 11 defendants continue.

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15 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
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