Mon, Aug 15, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Militia members threaten East Timor's security

SLIPPING IN With security lax along the border with Indonesia, some former militiamen involved in the crimes of 1999 are said to be returning to East Timor


Armenia da Silva seethes with anger knowing her husband's killers remains free across the East Timor border in Indonesia. But at least she lives in relative peace in this impoverished farm village.

That sense of security, though, has been shaken in recent days with reports that a militiaman linked to her husband Cornelius' killers returned to East Timor.

Manuel Maia was eventually arrested last month. But da Silva and other victims of the violence during the country's bloody break from Indonesia 1999 fear there will be more like him, given the impoverished country's porous borders, undermanned police force and government's refusal to pursue the worst perpetrators.

"Of course we are scared. We are very close to border," said da Silva, who watched as militiamen shot dead her husband in April 1999 and then burned down the family's house. His killing was allegedly ordered by the Indonesian military as part of a campaign to terrorize independence supporters in the area.

"We don't have police to safeguard our border," she said, of potential attacks but also revenge killings. "I'm scared more violence will come. When these perpetrators come back, the young people here will create violence because they are not satisfied with the judicial process."

Nearly 1,500 people died when the Indonesian military and its proxy militias went on a killing, looting and burning spree before and after the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence in 1999.

East Timor, which became independent in 2002, indicted 440 Indonesian servicemen and militia members for human rights violations. Of those, 339 suspects are believed to be living in Indonesia -- including failed Indonesian presidential candidate General Wiranto, who was the country's military chief in 1999.

The UN Serious Crimes Unit -- which was tasked with investigating and prosecuting the cases -- shut down in May. In recent weeks, the Timorese government has chosen to focus on supporting a bipartisan Truth and Friendship Commission than pursuing the indicted militia members. Jointly run by Indonesia and East Timor, it was inaugurated this month but has no power to prosecute suspects wanted in the 1999 violence.

Rights groups say Maia's case will be a crucial test of the country's commitment to justice. There are concerns about a shortage of qualified judges to hear the rights cases, finding old case files and confusion among prosecutors over what laws to apply to militia members, they say.

"The return of Maia from West Timor has exposed the folly of the closing Special Panels for Serious Crimes prematurely without creating a complimentary institution or even a clear policy to deal with the untried indictees," the Judicial System Monitoring Program in East Timor, an international watchdog group, said in a statement.

For da Silva and her neighbors, the lax security and the headlines about the toothless commission has left them feeling ignored and exposed to future violence.

"I'm afraid they will come back and kill my son," said da Silva."

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