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Indonesian Police Official Acquitted in E. Timor Human Rights Case

Indonesia's special human rights court acquitted a police general - and five other defendants - accused of committing human rights abuses in East Timor. The verdicts are likely to anger human rights groups.

Family and friends of Brigadier General Timbul Silaen applauded as a judge declared there is insufficient evidence to prove his guilt and therefore he is acquitted.

The police general faced 10 and a half years in prison. Prosecutors charged that General Silaen had failed to prevent his subordinates from committing atrocities, including the massacre of a group of East Timorese refugees sheltering at a church. Mr. Silaen also was linked to an attack on a United Nations office and attacks on the homes of independence leaders. He said he is glad the trial is over. Mr. Silaen said the trial has been going on for sometime and it has been open to the public. Mr. Silaen said it has been fair.

Later Thursday, a court also acquitted five Indonesian military officers and a police officer for alleged abuses in East Timor. They are among 18 Indonesians who have been indicted for human rights abuses in the months surrounding East Timor's 1999 vote for independence from Indonesia. On Wednesday, East Timor's former governor Abilio Soares was sentenced to 3 years in prison for crimes against humanity also for failing to prevent violence committed by subordinates. The latest verdicts are likely to anger human rights groups. Late Wednesday, three European human rights groups issued a statement demanding that an international human rights court be formed to hear abuse cases in East Timor. They called the three-year sentence given Soares a "travesty of justice." Rights activists have criticized Indonesia's special human rights court since it was formed. They say Indonesian authorities have not tried high-ranking military officers, and that the indictments are weak.

Joaquim Fonseca, of the East Timor human rights group Yayasan Hak, spoke before the verdicts came down. "If we look at the indictment, the accusation against Mr. Abilio Soares, what it says is about omission. He was accused of omission, failing to prevent. But that is not what he did. Yes, he failed to prevent certain things that he could have done … but he also actively involved in supporting, aiding the activities of the militias," he noted. Human rights groups say about one thousand people were killed in East Timor as anti-independence militias rampaged through the territory in August and September 1999. Hundreds of thousands of others were either forcibly deported or fled East Timor.