Accessibility links

East Timor, Indonesia Ink Deal on Truth Commission

Despite misgivings by the United Nations, Indonesia and East Timor have signed an agreement to set up a truth commission to deal with atrocities committed during East Timor's 1999 vote for independence.

East Timor President Xanana Gusmao and Prime Minister Mari Alcatari met with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Jakarta Wednesday to sign an agreement creating the Commission of Truth and Friendship.

Both sides agree the commission is the best way for the two countries to move forward from the violence surrounding East Timor's breakaway from Indonesia.

East Timor President Gusmao says both countries have to put the past behind them.

"I must say [it's] a unique initiative from two countries that had a painful past to go forward looking for the truth," said Xanana Gusmao.

The commission, which will commence proceedings August 10, has no political or judicial power and cannot give amnesty to anyone accused of committing atrocities. It can, however, recommend that the Indonesian and East Timor parliaments grant an amnesty to those who confess to crimes.

However, Mr. Gusmao says the main aim of the commission is to seek the truth.

"The commission is open to search the truth and we have to make a mechanism by which the commission can have the truth revealed," he said. "But sometimes people look more to the amnesty, look more to the impunity, than the objective of the commission to search the truth."

Pro-Jakarta militias, many backed by the Indonesian army, went on a rampage in East Timor in the weeks before and after the country voted overwhelmingly to break away from Indonesia in 1999.

More than 1,000 people were killed, large swaths of the territory were laid to waste, and more than a quarter of a million East Timorese were forced into militia-run camps in Indonesian West Timor.

Indonesia's special tribunals have been criticized for failing to bring those responsible to justice, while the East Timor court jailed 74 Timorese but was unable to extradite senior Indonesian commanders.

Because of both countries' poor track records, the United Nations has proposed setting up a panel of experts to examine whether justice was carried out.

East Timor Prime Minister Alcatari says the U.N. panel of experts will complement the commission, but it is time for Indonesia and East Timor to work together.

"Of course the Secretary General of the United Nations decided to set up the Commission of Experts, it's an international commission," said Mari Alcatari. "But for Indonesia and Timor, it is time for us to get together and try to search for the truth."

The commission will have five members from Indonesia and five from East Timor.