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Former President Denies Trying to Influence E. Timor Vote - 2003-03-20


Indonesia's former president, BJ Habibie, has told a human rights court that his government did not try to sway the outcome of East Timor's 1999 vote for independence. United Nations investigators and human rights activists charge that some government officials orchestrated a campaign of violence to keep East Timor a part of Indonesia.

Former Indonesian President BJ Habibie testified Thursday that he had worked to ensure that East Timor's 1999 independence ballot was carried out honestly. Responding to a question from judges, Mr. Habibie denied there was a conspiracy to sway the outcome of the vote. The former president was testifying before Indonesia's human rights tribunal, which was set up to try government officials charged with human rights abuses in East Timor. Hundreds died at the hands of the anti-independence militias in the weeks surrounding the independence vote. Nearly a quarter million others were forced to flee into Indonesian-held West Timor. Despite the violence, East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence.

President Habibie has not been charged with any crime. He was testifying at the trial of East Timor military chief Brigadier General Tono Suratman. General Suratman is charged with failing to prevent an attack on the home of an independence leader. Last month, an East Timor human rights court indicted several generals, charging they had founded and supported armed militias that attacked civilians.

Among those the East Timor court indicted is General Wiranto - the minister of defense in the Habibie administration. But Indonesian officials say the indictments issued in East Timor carry no legal weight in Indonesia. In January 1999, Mr. Habibie made the surprise announcement that Indonesia would consider letting East Timor have its independence. Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 and annexed it the following year - sparking a guerrilla war for independence with the East Timorese.

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