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Indonesian Commander Found Not Guilty of Crimes in East Timor - 2002-12-30


An Indonesian court has acquitted a military commander of crimes against humanity over violence that broke out during East Timor's independence vote in 1999. Only one of 18 defendants so far has been found guilty of the bloodshed.

Indonesian Lieutenant Colonel Yayat Sudrajat was found not guilty of charges he failed to stop an attack on a church in East Timor filled with pro-independence supporters in April 1999. At least 22 people were killed.

The judge said the colonel was not responsible for the violence committed by pro-Jakarta militias as he did not have command of the militia group.

Colonel Sudrajat is the ninth security official to be cleared of all charges over the bloodshed that swept East Timor after pro-Jakarta militias - most trained and backed by the Indonesian military - went on a rampage of violence in the year the former Portuguese territory voted for independence from Indonesia in a U.N.-sponsored vote.

Much of the East Timor's infrastructure was destroyed, more than 250,000 East Timorese were forced by the militias into refugee camps in Indonesian West Timor, and as many as 2,000 people were killed.

The court was set up by Jakarta to bring those responsible for the violence to justice. So far only one person, a senior military official, has been convicted. He was sentenced on Friday to five years in prison, half of what prosecutors asked for.

Eleven people have been acquitted and six other trials are proceeding. The acquittals have prompted an outcry from local and international human rights groups.

Portugal's Ambassador to Indonesia, Ana Gomez, said fair judicial proceedings require government commitment. "Of course it requires some political will, determination on the part of the leadership and somehow this is not happening and the trials show that," Ms. Gomez said.

The United States cut military ties with Indonesia over the bloodshed in East Timor and said a full accounting of those responsible for the violence was needed before normal military relations could resume.