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Indonesian Militia Leader Sentenced For Crimes Against Humanity - 2002-11-27


An Indonesian court has sentenced a notorious East Timorese militia leader to 10 years in prison for crimes against humanity.

The five judges ruled that militia leader Eurico Guterres had created what they called a "climate of vengeance" and incited his followers to kill - leading to a massacre.

In April 1999, militia men murdered 11 people who had sought shelter at the home of Manuel Carrascalo, a prominent independence leader. They also murdered Manuel Carrascalo's son.

Guterres was the head of the Aitarak or "Thorn" militia group. The militias fought to keep East Timor part of Indonesia.

The former Portuguese colony was occupied by the Indonesian military in 1975.

After years of fighting East Timorese separatist rebels, the Indonesian government decided to allow the territory to vote on its political future in August 1999, in a ballot supervised by the United Nations.

The months leading up to that ballot saw a rise of violence by militia groups. It culminated in the militias' virtual takeover of East Timor after the United Nations announced a landslide vote in favor of independence. Hundreds of people died in the violence.

Human rights groups charge that the Indonesian military set up the militias, supported them, and in some cases participated in some of the violence.

The Indonesian government came under heavy fire for allowing the carnage to take place. It formed a special human rights court to deal with cases of abuse.

But analysts say the government has failed to indict senior military officers, and it has given light sentences to convicted offenders.

Sidney Jones is with the Jakarta office of the International Crisis Group. She recently commented on the trials. "I think that the East Timor trials, the trials in Jakarta of officers accused of violence in East Timor in 1999, have not helped the case for accountability for military abuses," she said. "They've actually very significantly undermined it, because these trials have been used as a forum by the military for arguing not only that they weren't responsible but that the main culprit was the United Nations."

Guterres said he would appeal the verdict.

He is just the second person to be convicted in Indonesia for crimes in East Timor. Six others have been acquitted and several people still await trial.

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