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Indonesian Court Sentences Top Army Officer for E. Timor Violence - 2002-12-27

A human rights court in Indonesia has sentenced a high-ranking military officer to five years in prison for his role in atrocities committed in East Timor three years ago. It is the first time a senior member of the army has been punished for the violence that surrounded East Timor's vote for independence in 1999.

A judge in Jakarta found Lieutenant Colonel Soejarwo guilty of grave human rights violations for failing to prevent attacks on refugees by pro-Indonesian militia.

Soejarwo was the military commander in the East Timorese capital, Dili, in 1999, during the United Nations-sponsored referendum on independence from Indonesia.

The refugees had taken shelter in the compound of East Timor's Roman Catholic Bishop, Nobel Prize-winner Carlos Ximenes Belo, when the militia attacks killed at least 15 people.

Indonesia has been severely criticized for doing too little to punish those responsible for the bloody violence that marred the vote, and killed up to 2,000 people.

Soejarwo, who says he will appeal the sentence, is the third person to be convicted of complicity in the violence.

A militia leader, Eurico Guterres, was sentenced to 10 years in jail, and the governor of East Timor, Abilio Soares, was sentenced to three years.

Ten Indonesians have been cleared of all charges this year and trials for at least five others are proceeding.

Human rights workers have complained the sentences have been too lenient, and say that the acquittals have gone against the evidence.