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US 'Dismayed' Over Indonesian Court Decision on East Timor - 2004-08-09

The United States Monday expressed dismay over an Indonesian appeals court ruling overturning convictions of security officials for crimes against humanity in the 1999 violence in East Timor. The State Department called the Indonesian legal process "seriously flawed."

U.S. officials have been monitoring Indonesian court cases stemming from the 1999 East Timor violence with concern, and they are criticizing in strong terms the appeals court decision that overturned the convictions of four senior security officials, and cut in half the prison term of another figure in the violence.

The appeals court decisions, made two weeks ago but only revealed publicly last Friday, reversed the convictions of three senior army officers who were posted in East Timor along with that of the former police chief of the regional capital, Dili.

All had been convicted of crimes against humanity in the East Timor violence in which local paramilitary forces, backed by elements of the Indonesian military, killed at least a thousand people and displaced hundreds of thousands in a campaign against local independence efforts.

The appeals court also reduced, from 10 years to five, the prison sentence of the most prominent paramilitary chieftain.

State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli made clear U.S. disappointment over the appeals court ruling:

"We are dismayed by this decision, and we are profoundly disappointed with the performance and record of the Indonesian ad hoc tribunal," he said. "In our view, as a result of this appeals decision, only two of the 18 defendants have been convicted, and both individuals are ethnic-Timorese, and both received sentences below the 10-year minimum set by law. We think the overall process was seriously flawed and lacked credibility."

Mr. Ereli said the United States is consulting with the governments concerned, implicitly those of Indonesia and East Timor, and with international organizations on how to insure what he termed "a credible level of justice" for the 1999 abuses.

The paramilitaries had tried to derail a U.N.-supervised election for East Timorese independence, which went ahead despite the violence and led to the territory becoming an independent state in 2002.

Much of the country's infrastructure was destroyed in the fighting and a third of its population of about 800,000 were forced into camps in West Timor.

Indonesia established the tribunal, under international pressure, to try those responsible for the destruction, but its work has been widely criticized by diplomats and human rights groups.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch said the appeals court decision shows that Indonesian courts are simply not independent and are incapable of rendering justice for what it termed the "atrocities" committed in East Timor.

Human Rights Watch, along with some Indonesian rights advocates, called on the United Nations to establish an international tribunal.

However, East Timor's Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta was quoted as saying Monday that such a tribunal would not help the fledgling government in Dili, and that East Timorese officials would not lobby for it.

Mr. Ramos-Horta told the Reuters news agency a U.N. tribunal might be politically destabilizing, and that his government would prefer to see an international truth and reconciliation commission set up to examine the 1999 events.