Sunday, February 18, 2007

Timor commission to question ex-minister

Last Update: Sunday, February 18, 2007. 1:40am (AEDT)
Timor commission to question ex-minister
An Indonesia-East Timor commission plans to question a former foreign minister over violence in the lead-up to the fledgling nation's vote for independence.

Commission co-chairman Benyamin Mangkudilaga says the truth commission will hear from seven people, including former Indonesian foreign minister Ali Alatas, when its first hearings start on Monday and Tuesday.

"We invited [former Indonesian president BJ] Habibie and [East Timorese President] Xanana Gusmao but they could not make it to this hearing," Mr Mangkudilaga said.

Mr Habibie is undergoing medical treatment in Germany but has sent a supportive letter and documents to the commission, while Mr Gusmao is busy preparing for elections.

Mr Habibie was president at the time of the East Timor vote in 1999.

Both are expected to attend a future hearing.

The commission plans to invite 70 people to similar public hearings until June, including former Indonesian military chief Wiranto and former militia leader Eurico Guterres.

Guterres is the only person serving a jail term for his role in the trouble that surrounded the United Nations-sponsored ballot.

Mr Mangkudilaga says "the hearing is not aimed to look for who is guilty, it will not be a trial".

The commission was set up in August 2005 to probe past events to establish the truth about the violence during that turbulent time.

The body, comprised of five Indonesians and five East Timorese, is not a judicial body and will submit its findings to both governments.

Modelled along lines similar to South Africa's post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it aims at reconciliation rather than recrimination.

Militia gangs, which the United Nations has said were recruited and directed by Indonesia's military, went on an arson and killing spree before and after the East Timorese voted for independence.

They killed about 1,400 people and laid waste to much of the infrastructure in the half-island, which was a Portuguese colony before Indonesia invaded it in 1975.

An Indonesian rights court set up to try military officers and officials for atrocities in East Timor was widely condemned as a sham for failing to jail any Indonesians.

Prison break
Meanwhile, police say six prisoners have escaped from a jail in the East Timor capital, Dili.

United Nations police spokeswoman Monica Rodrigues says the prisoners escaped from Becora prison but one of them was captured immediately.

"[We] are involved in the search for the other five, four of whom allegedly were in pre-trial detention concerning an arson case in Liquica," she said.

In January, three women were killed and their house was torched in Liquica, about 40 kilometres west of the capital Dili.

Rebel leader Major Alfredo Reinado escaped from the same prison along with more than 50 other inmates shortly after he was arrested in August last year on charges of possessing weapons.

Reinado led a group of 600 deserting troops and was accused of sparking civil unrest in May.

The unrest triggered clashes among rival security forces and gang wars on the streets that killed 21 people and prompted the deployment of an Australian-led international peacekeeping force.


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