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US Expresses Disappointment at Light Sentences by East Timor Tribunal - 2003-08-05

The United States is expressing disappointment with the Indonesian tribunal set up to deal with violence surrounding the 1999 independence vote in East Timor. The trial phase of the tribunal's work ended Tuesday when a top Indonesian general was given a three-year jail term.

The State Department has joined human rights groups in criticizing the Indonesian tribunal, saying the work of the court established last year to try government soldiers for brutality against East Timorese independence groups was "flawed and lacked credibility."

The comments follow the tribunal's sentencing of Indonesian Army Major General Adam Damiri to three years in prison for failing to prevent the violence, most of it attributed to pro-Jakarta militia gangs that swept East Timor after the 1999 independence vote.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said U.S. officials are pleased that the judges went against the prosecution's recommendation for an acquittal in the case.

But he noted that the three-year sentence handed down was far less than the ten year minimum recommended for such crimes under Indonesian law.

Mr. Reeker said the outcome reflected the overall performance of the court, which he said was marked by lenient treatment of those implicated in the 1999 violence which killed an estimated one thousand people:

"The light sentencing of this highest-ranking defendant and others when they were found guilty, we think, has been disappointing," he said. "The court has convicted only six defendants and handed only one convict a sentence that meets the country's minimum standards. The court has also permitted all of those convicted to remain free pending their appeals. And we have noted that on numerous occasions, the Indonesian government failed to take full advantage of many opportunities to hold human rights violators fully accountable for their crimes in East Timor."

General Damiri was the Indonesian army commander for East Timor at the time of the rampage by militiamen, and could have faced a death sentence. Prosecutors in June had requested that the charges against him be dropped for lack of evidence, and Tuesday's conviction was considered a surprise.

An East Timorese watchdog group, the Judicial System Monitoring Program, said the sentence showed the tribunal was trying to mollify world opinion while delivering minimal punishment, and that there was no justice for the victims of the violence.

The human rights group Amnesty International also criticized the outcome and called on the United Nations to intervene.

State Department spokesman Reeker said the United States would consult with other governments and organizations on options "to assure a credible level of justice" for the 1999 abuses, and he noted that a U.S. visa ban against persons involved in crimes against humanity in East Timor remains in place.