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E. Timor Indicts 16 for Crimes Against Humanity - 2003-04-09

Prosecutors in East Timor have indicted 16 more people, including eight Indonesian military officers, on charges of crimes against humanity. The indictment alleges that the military participated in a massacre at a church days after East Timor voted to break free of Indonesian rule in 1999. United Nations prosecutors working for an East Timor court charged the accused with 31 counts of crimes against humanity. There are specific charges of murder, deportation and torture. Eight of the 16 names appearing on the indictment are Indonesian military officers, including a colonel. The violence took place in the days surrounding East Timor's United Nations-supervised vote for independence from Indonesia in 1999. The referendum was aimed at ending 24 years of conflict in the former Portuguese colony. The indictment was prepared by the United Nations Serious Crimes Unit, working under the auspices of East Timor's legal system. So far, U.N. prosecutors have handed up 59 indictments, charging a total 243 people. More than 30 of the defendants have been convicted in East Timorese courts.

The latest indictment deals in part with a massacre that took place at a church in the town of Suai. The massacre was allegedly carried out by Timorese militiamen opposed to independence from Indonesia. Sidney Jones is an analyst with the Jakarta based think tank, the International Crisis Group. In 1999, she headed the United Nations human rights office in East Timor, which investigated whether the militias were being supported by the TNI, as the Indonesian military is known. "At that stage, there were hundreds and hundreds of people who had sought refuge in the Ave Maria Church in Suai and it was eventually surrounded and then attacked by the TNI with the Laksaur militia working side by side," she said.

The indictment charges that members of the military participated in the attack, and then helped dispose of the bodies of more than 30 victims across the border in the Indonesian province of West Timor. This is not the first time the Indonesian military has been accused of atrocities in East Timor. More than 20 military officers - including the former Minister of Defense, General Wiranto - have been indicted for allegedly orchestrating or participating in militia crimes. The Indonesian government has said it would disregard any indictments filed in the East Timor court. Indonesia has set up its own human rights tribunal to consider charges against its armed forces personnel, but that tribunal has come under fire by human rights groups for failing to indict any senior military officials.