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Human Rights Court Convicts Army General In East Timor - 2003-03-12

A human rights court in Indonesia has convicted an army general of crimes against humanity for his role in the violence that surrounded East Timor's vote for independence three years ago. Tim Johnston reports from Jakarta.

Brigadier general Mohammed Noer Muis was sentenced Wednesday to five years in prison after being found guilty of crimes against humanity in East Timor. He was charged with having a part in the violence in East Timor before and after its august 1999 vote for independence.

Shortly before the vote, Muis took command of the Indonesian military forces in East Timor. His appointment came after the United Nations and other international observers had complained of the military's deep involvement with anti-independence militias, who were using violence to intimidate voters to swing the vote.

Among the charges against Muis was that he had failed to prevent an attack on a church in the south of East Timor, in which at least 30 people died.

Human rights groups estimate that in the period surrounding the vote, almost one thousand people were killed and up to a quarter of a million others were driven into exile in neighboring West Timor.

Indonesia's human rights tribunal for East Timor has been widely condemned. Critics say it does not cover enough offenses, and that many suspects have been acquitted despite strong evidence against them.

Muis, who is currently in charge of human rights training at Indonesia's military academy, says he will appeal the verdict.