Amnesty International is criticizing East Timor for allowing alleged war criminals to go unpunished.  The human rights organization has published a new report, "East Timor - Justice in the Shadow," which accuses the authorities in the troubled Asian nation of failing to bring the perpetrators of serious offenses, including murder and torture, to trial.  

Amnesty International says East Timor's new penal code allows people suspected of war crimes or crimes against humanity to escape justice.

The human rights group accuses the fledgling nation of breaching its international obligations and insists that East Timor close a legal loophole that allows alleged war crimes committed during Indonesian rule between 1975 and the late 1990's to go unpunished. Independent surveys sponsored by the United Nations have previously estimated that about 100,000 Timorese died during those years of foreign occupation.

It is thought that many of those responsible for atrocities now live freely in Indonesia, with little fear that justice will eventually catch up with them.

East Timor must acknowledge the injustices of the past said Amnesty International researcher Isabelle Arradon.

"It is important to eradicate a culture of impunity and show that people who are responsible for horrific crimes - torture, arbitrary killings, rape -- are brought to a fair trial," Arradon said.  These people should no longer serve in the security forces in any place."

The East Timorese government has consistently argued that it is dealing with what it has called a "difficult and precarious" dilemma where the demands for past crimes to be investigated must be weighed against a need to move on from the country's violent past. Senior public figures have said peace and democracy will not be well served by any international tribunal into war crimes allegations.

East Timor, a country of slightly more than a million people that lies to the north of Australia, is the world's newest nation but remains one of its most impoverished, despite abundant natural resources.

East Timor remains beset by regional and ethnic hostilities, high rates of unemployment and political uncertainty more than a decade after voting to for independence from Indonesia in 1999.