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Indonesia Redressing Military Violence - 2002-07-26

East Timor's foreign minister said Indonesia deserves praise for trying to bring to justice members of its military and police who were allegedly behind the violence that followed East Timor's independence vote in 1999.

Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta said East Timor is carefully watching Indonesia's human rights court to see what it ultimately accomplishes.

Jakarta set up the court in May to try military and government officials suspected of complicity in the rampage that left more than 1,000 people dead and most of East Timor destroyed.

By late June, the court had charged 17 officers and government officials with crimes against humanity. But international human rights groups complained that only low-ranking officers, and none of the top military brass, were being indicted. Earlier this month, the court put an Indonesian general on trial.

Mr. Ramos-Horta said Jakarta's effort to redress military wrongdoing is an unprecedented move in a region, which has had a long history of brutal military crackdowns.

"When the Philippines transitioned from the Marcos to democracy, were there trials of military officers responsible for what happened in the past? No. It didn't happen in Thailand. It didn't happen in South Korea. And I think we have to acknowledge that," Mr. Ramos-Horta said.

He said he doubts Indonesia will be willing to punish every person responsible for crimes in East Timor. Nevertheless his country, he said, is in a forgiving mood. "East Timor is free. The greatest gift, the greatest act of justice for East Timor is that we are free," he said.

East Timor and Indonesia in recent months have been trying to forge new diplomatic and economic ties.

In May, former separatist leader-turned-president, Xanana Gusmao, invited Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri to East Timor to attend independence celebrations. In early July, Ms. Megawati welcomed Mr. Gusmao to Jakarta with a 21-gun salute.

East Timor's president, and Foreign Minister Ramos-Horta, said they think maintaining good relations with Indonesia is crucial to East Timor's stability and future economic success.

Mr. Ramos-Horta fled East Timor in 1975 when Indonesia invaded the territory. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for his efforts in exile to gain East Timor's independence.