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32 Members of Indonesian Armed Forces, Militias Indicted For East Timor Crimes - 2003-02-04


United Nations prosecutors in East Timor have indicted 32 members of the Indonesian Armed Forces and several militias for alleged crimes against humanity. Among those accused are four military officers and a notorious militia leader.

The indictment handed down by a prosecutor from the U.N. Serious Crimes Unit charges 15 members of the Indonesian Armed Forces and 17 militiamen with crimes against humanity. It covers a number of charges of murder, torture, unlawful detention and destruction of property that took place in April 1999.

U.N. Prosecutor Eric MacDonald, who prepared the indictment, said it is important for prosecutors to look at the role played in East Timor by the Indonesian military, called the TNI. Among those indicted was Joao de Silva Tavarres, the head of the militias, and Lieutenant Colonel Siagian, a district commander.

"It's significant in numbers, but it's also significant in targets," said the U.N. prosecutor. "You have Joao de Silva Tavarres, who was basically the leader of all the militia groups active in East Timor back in 1999. And also because you have Siagian who was the lieutenant colonel for the TNI military - he was the top commander for the district of Bobonaro, which was on the border with West Timor," he said.

Human rights groups charge that the Indonesian military set up and assisted the militias as they launched a campaign of violence throughout East Timor, intended to prevent it from breaking free of Indonesian rule.

Hundreds of people were killed before and after a U.N. supervised referendum in August 1999, in which the vast majority of East Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia.

The Indonesian government has formed its own human rights tribunal, separate from the U.N. court, to bring to justice those responsible for alleged atrocities. Because it has formed a tribunal, the Jakarta government has refused to extradite anybody indicted to stand trial in East Timor.

Because all of those indicted Tuesday are believed to be living in Indonesia, Mr. MacDonald doubts they will ever appear in court. "Sometimes you have former East Timorese TNI or militia members coming back to their local communities, and then we arrest them. But will some of them come back now that they know they're indicted, I don't know," he said.

After two years of U.N. administration, East Timor achieved full independence last May.

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