East Timor’s government survived a raucous no-confidence vote in parliament over its decision to free an Indonesian militia leader accused of crimes against humanity, officials said yesterday.
Members of the opposition Fretilin party and allies brought the motion before the house, accusing the government of East Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao of breaking the law by releasing militia leader Martenus Bere from custody.
After a fiery day-long debate which was broadcast on national TV television, members of parliament voted for the motion late yesterday by a margin of 39 against to 25, officials said.
Former prime minister Mari Alkatiri led the charge against the government, saying the decision to release Bere less than a month after his arrest in August was unconstitutional and undermined East Timor’s independence.
Bere was arrested after crossing into East Timor on Aug. 8, five years after being indicted for his role in a string of human rights violations including the 1999 Suai church massacre in which up to 200 people were killed.
“This government has become accustomed to disrespecting the Constitution and the law, opposing national and international laws,” Alkatiri said.
Gusmao, who led East Timor’s resistance against Indonesian rule before its 1999 vote for independence, defended freeing Bere from jail as a “political decision” that was “in the national interest.”
Bere has stayed at the Indonesian embassy in Dili since his Aug. 30 release from custody.
Government members of parliament said Bere’s release was necessary to prevent reprisals against Timorese studying in Indonesia, and said a trial would have done nothing to improve reconciliation with Jakarta.
Gusmao and East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta have said reconciliation with Indonesia is more important than dwelling on its crimes, despite UN calls for an international tribunal.
Indonesia’s brutal 24-year occupation of East Timor ended with bloody violence by Indonesian troops and their militia proxies who opposed the 1999 UN-backed independence vote.
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