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East Timor Anti-Independence Leader On Trial - 2002-06-27

East Timorese militia leader Eurico Guterres has gone on trial in Indonesia's special tribunal for crimes in East Timor. Prosecutors charge that Eurico Guterres incited his followers to commit violence in East Timor in 1999, when the territory won its independence from Indonesia.

The trial opened Thursday in Jakarta with the prosecutor outlining the charges. Mohammad Yusuf said Eurico Guterres ordered the deaths of independence supporters in the lead-up to East Timor's 1999 vote to separate from Indonesia.

Mohammed Yusuf said Mr. Guterres, as leader of a prominent militia group, is responsible for serious human rights violations committed by his followers. In the indictment, the prosecution alleges that in April 1999, Mr. Guterres told members of his feared Aitarak militia to kill all independence activists. Shortly thereafter, militiamen stormed the house of a prominent independence leader and murdered 12 people.

Mr. Guterres appeared confident as prosecutors read the charges. The militia leader has been in court before, on weapons charges. He was sentenced to six months in house arrest a sentence he has already completed.

Anti-independence militia groups wreaked havoc across East Timor in the weeks before and after East Timor's independence vote. Human rights groups said hundreds of people were killed in the chaos, hundreds of thousands displaced and the territory was devastated. Mr. Guterres said he is innocent and his actions were justified to defend Indonesia's sovereignty. He said he has never felt as if he were guilty. But he is ready to receive the death sentence for defending his country. He added he has done his duties in East Timor as an Indonesian citizen and his struggle to preserve the integrity of East Timor is protected by law.

Mr. Guterres is one of two dozen suspects indicted by Indonesia's special court to try those responsible for the violent rampage in East Timor.

Indonesia set-up the court earlier this year under intense international pressure to mete out justice.

East Timor was occupied by the Indonesian military for 24 years following its 1975 invasion - but faced guerrilla resistance. The stalemate broke when Indonesia agreed to allow the East Timorese to vote on the territory's political future in 1999 in a U.N.-supervised ballot. East Timor officially marked its independence last month.