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Indonesian Leader Approves East Timor Judges - 2002-01-14

Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri has approved the judges who will oversee the trial of suspects accused of human rights violations in East Timor. However, no date has been set for the start of the trials.

After delaying several times, Ms. Megawati has signed a decree approving the 18 judges for the human rights court. State Secretary Bambang Kesowo says the 18 fill out a panel of 30 judges who will run the newly established court.

Supreme Court Judge Benjamin Mangkudilaga, who is coordinating the human rights court, says the 18 judges needed presidential approval because they are not career judges. The other 12 judges are career judges, so they did not need presidential approval. He says the chief justice must formally install all 30 judges before the cases can proceed.

The human rights trial initially was to begin last month, but was postponed until Tuesday, because Ms. Megawati did not approve the judges on time. Judge Mangkudilaga says that since the judges were just approved Monday, no actual starting date has been set.

In September 2000, Indonesian prosecutors charged 19 suspects in connection with the violence that devastated East Timor shortly after the territory voted for independence from Indonesia in August 1999. Three of the suspects are military generals.

Pro-Jakarta militias, allegedly backed by the Indonesian army, killed hundreds of East Timorese, forced more than 200,000 people into refugee camps in Indonesian West Timor, and leveled much of the newly independent territory.

Under pressure from the United Nations and the international community, Indonesia promised to bring the perpetrators of the East Timor violence to justice. Many in the international community initially called for an international tribunal, fearing that any trial held in Indonesia would be a failure because of the powerful influence the military still has in the country's political life.