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Atrocities Committed in E. Timor Went Unpunished, says Human Rights Group - 2003-04-15

Amnesty International is pushing the United Nations to hold a war crimes tribunal for atrocities committed in East Timor. The rights group says trials conducted by the Indonesian government have not been honest or fair.

Amnesty International says it is time for the United Nations to find alternative ways to pursue justice for East Timor. A new report seeks to remind the United Nations that Secretary General Kofi Annan recommended that an international tribunal be formed to do so.

Hundreds of people died in East Timor when anti-independence militias virtually seized control of the territory in September 1999. That was days after the United Nations supervised a referendum in which the vast majority of East Timorese voted to end 24 years of Indonesian rule.

Human rights groups and U.N. investigators say the militias were formed by members of the Indonesian military, who in some cases participated in the violence.

The Amnesty report says the Indonesian government's tribunal that is hearing war crimes cases has failed to deliver truth or justice.

The report says Indonesian prosecutors were drawn from what it describes as the "corrupt" attorney general's office. It says the prosecutors have withheld evidence to protect government officials.

U.N. prosecutors working for an East Timor court have indicted more than 240 people on war crimes charges, and have convicted 30 of them.

Those indicted include senior members of the Indonesian Armed Forces, including the former defense minister.

But U.N. officials admit it will be very difficult to bring Indonesian officials to justice, because it is unlikely they will return to East Timor to stand trial. The Indonesian government has said it does not consider the indictments legitimate.

Despite pressure from Amnesty International and other rights groups, East Timor's leaders have said they will not pursue the formation of an international rights tribunal. They say the government's priority is to eradicate poverty and improve the conditions for East Timor's people, and that requires good relations with Indonesia.