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Page last updated at 06:24 GMT, Tuesday, 8 April 2008 07:24 UK

E Timor militia leader released

Eurico Guterres, former militiaman, on 07/03
Mr Guterres was the leader of one of the most feared militias

The only pro-Indonesia militia leader to be convicted over the violence which engulfed East Timor in 1999 has been freed from jail.

Eurico Guterres had been sentenced to 10 years for his role in the killings of 12 people as East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia.

But judges in the Indonesia capital Jakarta overturned his conviction and freed him after two years in jail.

Over 1,000 people are thought to have died in violence sparked by the vote.

Much of the unrest was blamed on militias backed by the Indonesian army.

The former Portuguese colony eventually voted for independence after 25 years of rule from Jakarta.

Troubled past

Mr Guterres said what he had done during the independence referendum was simply to fight for his political views - something that did not amount to human rights violations.

"The excesses of our struggle were not something we wanted, but something we couldn't avoid," he said.

He was originally found guilty of leading an attack on a group of people sheltering from the referendum violence.

But late last week the Supreme Court found that he was not proven to have had full command over the attack, and therefore could not be held criminally responsible.

Human rights groups in Indonesia have said the verdict shows the courts' lack of commitment in dealing with past abuses.

More than a dozen other men who had been indicted over the violence have also been acquitted.

The United Nations estimates about 1,000 people were killed in the violence, but Indonesian officials put the figure at about 100.

A truth commission set up by the two countries in 2005 is investigating the events but it does not have any power to prosecute, and rights activists say it serves only to whitewash the crimes.



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