The United Nations has indicted eight current and former Indonesian officials on charges of crimes against humanity during the run-up to the independence of East Timor. Indonesian officials promptly said they would ignore the indictments. Human rights groups have consistently claimed that the violence that devastated East Timor, before and after its 1999 vote for independence from Indonesia, was orchestrated by Indonesian military officials. Today's indictments, announced by the United Nations in the East Timor capital Dili, support those claims.
Stuart Alford is a prosecutor in Dili with the U.N. serious crimes unit. Mr. Alford says the unit's two-year investigation proved that the devastation took place with the support and participation of senior officials of the Indonesian military - also known by the initials TNI. "It was a TNI-supported and directed operation," says Mr. Alford. "And senior TNI officers were responsible personally, individually in the establishment of militia groups, in the funding, training, arming and directing those militia groups for the participation of crimes." Mr. Alford says prosecutors will petition Indonesia's government to issue arrest warrants for the accused. But Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda, speaking at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Malaysia several hours after the indictments were announced, said his government would "simply ignore" them. Mr. Wirayuda questioned the United Nations' authority to return indictments against Indonesians.
Seven senior military officers and an ex-governor were charged with crimes against humanity, for participating in the establishment of the militia groups that opposed independence, and for acts the militias committed while under military command. The announcement said murder, deportation and persecution were part of a "widespread and systematic" attack against East Timorese who supported independence.
The names listed on the indictment read like a Who's Who of Indonesia's military brass: Former Defense Minister and Armed Forces chief General Wiranto; the officer who oversaw martial law in East Timor, Major General Kiki Syahnakri, and the special teams commander, Major General Zacky Anwar Makarim.
Also indicted were four regional military commanders, Major General Adam Damiri and Colonels Tono Suratman, Noer Muis and Sudrajat. The one civilian on the list is East Timor's former Jakarta-appointed governor, Abilio Soares.
Hundreds of people were killed in East Timor in 1999, before and after the independence referendum supervised by the United Nations. A quarter-million more were forced out or fled to refugee camps in the Indonesian province of West Timor. Much of the violence was committed by the militias.
Despite the bloodshed, the vote for independence was overwhelming. After two years under U.N. administration, East Timor became the world's newest nation last May.
Indonesia has set up its own tribunal to consider war crimes allegedly committed in East Timor, but the tribunal has been criticized for failing to take strong action. One of the few individuals convicted is former Governor Soares. He was sentenced to three years out of a possible ten for crimes against humanity, a sentence that critics charge is too lenient for such a crime. He is currently free on appeal.