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US Backs Dual Probes of 1999 East Timor Violence


Secretary of State Colin Powell met Wednesday with his counterparts from Indonesia and East Timor in an effort to help the two countries resolve ongoing disputes stemming from the 1999 violence that followed East Timor's vote for independence. The United States is backing parallel inquiries into the violence by the United Nations and the two parties themselves.

Mr. Powell's joint meeting with Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda and East Timor's Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta was evidence in itself of the progress the two countries have made since East Timor's independence in 2002.

The talks here focused on how the parties can further advance the reconciliation process and put to rest remaining differences stemming from the 1999 violence that swept East Timor following its U.N.-sponsored independence referendum.

Immediately after the results were announced, local militias backed by elements of the Indonesian military unleashed a wave of violence that killed more than 1,000 people and displaced about 300,000, a third of East Timor's population.

Although an Indonesian tribunal charged 18 people, mostly from the military and police, with human rights crimes, 12 were acquitted and the rest either had convictions overturned on appeals or have appeals pending.

In New York Tuesday, the Indonesian and East Timor Foreign Ministers told U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan their governments are setting up a joint "Commission on Truth and Friendship" to examine the 1999 human rights violations.

The announcement came as Mr. Annan considered a U.S.-backed proposal to send a commission of experts to the two countries to ensure accountability for the atrocities.

While the Indonesian foreign minister, Mr. Wirajuda, said Tuesday the truth commission is meant as an alternative to a U.N. inquiry, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a news briefing the United States considers both initiatives valuable and believes they can and should proceed in tandem.

"What we discussed today was how to coordinate those two processes," he said. "One, of the U.N. commission of experts, the second is their own bilateral Truth and Friendship Commission. We certainly think both initiatives are valuable. We've supported the commission of experts and continue to, and we agree that we need to coordinate their efforts."

Mr. Boucher said no final decisions were made on how to coordinate the two inquiries, and that the United States will continue to work with the parties to ensure that both can contribute to finding the truth. A senior U.S. diplomat who spoke to reporters said truth commissions have been successful in helping bring other international conflicts to closure, but that the United States believes the panel being set up by the two parties cannot be "the sole vehicle."

He said while Indonesian efforts to prosecute those behind the 1999 killings were perhaps undertaken in the right spirit, they have not, in his words, "led to much in the way of results."

Last August, when an Indonesia appeals court overturned the convictions of three senior army officers for crimes against humanity in East Timor, the State Department expressed "dismay" and said the legal process was "seriously flawed."