Wed, Sep 26, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Protesters demand justice as East Timor probe closes

AGENCIES , DILI

An international peacekeeper from Australia, rear, keeps vigil as protesters shout slogans at a demonstration in Dili, East Timor, yesterday. About 70 protesters yesterday held a noisy rally outside the building where the Indonesia-East Timor Commission of Truth and Friendship opened its final round of hearings.

PHOTO: AFP

Protesters called yesterday for the disbanding of an Indonesia-East Timor commission looking into violence surrounding East Timor's 1999 independence vote, demanding justice for what happened.

The Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF), which was set up in 2005 by Indonesia and East Timor to promote reconciliation between the two neighbors, is holding a final round of hearings this week in East Timor.

But critics say that the commission, which is meant to uncover details of the violence and human rights abuses that occurred as East Timorese prepared to vote, is toothless because it lacks the power to punish those found responsible for abuses.

"We want justice," chanted about 70 members of student and rights groups as about 100 security personnel stood on standby.

"There is no tolerance for anyone intending to eradicate justice," read one banner, while another said: "Justice should go through the courts, not through compromise."

"The CTF only defends the criminals and stands in the way of justice," said Xisto da Costa, one of the protesters. "They don't hear the victims' voices."

The UN has strongly criticized the CTF and refused to send any of its officials to testify at several rounds of hearings, saying those guilty of rights violations should face justice.

"This hearing session is quite special, not only because it is the first time it is being held in Dili ... but also because this will be the last public hearing held by the commission," said Benjamin Mangkudilaga, the Indonesian co-chairman of the commission.

On Monday, the commission heard the testimony of Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, who led the nation's fight against Indonesian rule and who spent seven years in jail in Jakarta.

Yesterday a former district chief told the commission that before the vote he had been asked by the Indonesian military to set up a militia to defend integration.

"We were trained by General Prabowo in Aileu and we had weapons," Tomas Gonsalves said, referring to the former head of the Indonesian military's special forces, Prabowo Subianto.

Gonsalves alleged that then-governor Abilio Soares, who died earlier this year, asked militia members to kill independence supporters and church leaders.

In the 1999 vote the East Timorese voted in favor of breaking away from Indonesia, leading to serious violence blamed on militias backed by the Indonesian military.

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