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Human Rights Groups Criticize Acquittal in E. Timor Violence Case

The United Nations and human rights organizations are unhappy with a court verdict acquitting an Indonesian police commander charged with abuses in East Timor. Many of the groups say Indonesia's human rights court is so flawed that it can not achieve justice for the East Timorese.

Mary Robinson, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights called on Indonesian authorities to ensure that the human rights court adheres to international standards of procedure. Ms. Robinson says the organization is concerned that prosecutors failed to present sufficient evidence to prove the guilt of officials charged with crimes against humanity.

Her statement was issued after Indonesia's special human rights court acquitted Police Brigadier General Timbul Silaen of allowing his subordinates to commit atrocities in East Timor. Five low-ranking members of the Indonesian security forces were acquitted of charges they participated in a massacre.

On Wednesday, the court convicted East Timor's former governor, Abilio Soares, of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to three years in jail.

Roughly 1,000 people died and hundreds of thousands were forced to flee when militia groups rampaged through East Timor in 1999, as the territory voted to break free of Indonesian rule. Human rights groups charge that the Indonesian military organized the militias and helped carry out the violence.

Christian Ranheim, of the Judicial System Monitoring Program, a non-governmental organization in East Timor's capital Dili, said Indonesian prosecutors had ample evidence to prove that the militias and General Silaen were linked, but they failed to introduce it in court.

"Whether they withheld the evidence or whether it was incompetence or political interference, I really can't comment on that. I really don't know," he said.

Indonesia set up a special human rights court in response to international pressure to hold its officials accountable for the violence. But human rights groups argue that the court's mandate was flawed from the very beginning. Mr. Ranheim said the court is not investigating many of the atrocities seen in East Timor.

"It was only allowed to try cases from three districts out of the 13 districts in East Timor and also for only two months in 1999, while actually a lot of violations happened throughout that year in all districts," Mr. Ranheim noted.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan also reacted to General Silaen's acquittal, by endorsing the statement from the High Commissoner for Human rights.

A spokesman for the secretary general rejected allegations made in Jakarta that the United Nations played a role in East Timor's destruction. Some Indonesian officials argued that irregularities in the way the United Nations ran East Timor's independence ballot fueled what they said was a conflict among local groups.