Probe names suspect in reporter's death in East Timor

A new report links an Army unit's rampage with a pattern of military behavior.

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

An investigator has uncovered new evidence in the murder of a Dutch journalist in East Timor in 1999 that bolsters the case against an Indonesian Army unit accused of murdering 12 people as it pulled out of the former Indonesian territory.

A report by Dutch government investigator Gerardus Thiry, obtained by the Monitor, says that 2nd Lt. Camillo dos Santos of the Indonesian Army's Battalion 745 was the killer of former Monitor contributor Sander Thoenes.

Indonesian prosecutors are skeptical of the report. Dos Santos, who is currently serving with Indonesian Army Battalion 743 in West Timor, told The Associated Press last week: "I don't know anything about the Thoenes killing."

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Mr. Thiry's report says a witness to the killing, Domingus Amarillo, identified Dos Santos from photographs.

The findings could turn up the heat on Indonesia, which is currently holding ad hoc human rights trials of militiamen and officers accused of being responsible for the rampage in East Timor after the territory's UN-sponsored independence referendum in 1999.

Roughly 1,000 people were killed and 200,000 displaced as Indonesian soldiers and their militia proxies fled the territory ahead of the arrival of a UN peacekeeping force.

Thiry's report links individual violent acts in the withdrawal from East Timor with a pattern of military behavior.

He concluded that "systematically and with a plan ... part of Indonesian Military Battalion 745 murdered defenseless civilians without guns, exterminated livestock and burnt houses to the ground."

Mr. Amarillo told investigators that at about 5 p.m. on Sept. 21 he was on a road in the Becora neighborhood of East Timor's capital, Dili. Hearing automatic rifle fire, he hid behind a tree. After a short time, he saw four or five soldiers carrying Thoenes. They laid the man down on his left side and one of the soldiers shot him in the back, Amarillo said.

The European Union and the United States have been pressing Indonesia to bring members of the battalion to trial for more than two years.

Indonesian prosecutors have a copy of Thiry's report, and recently went to East Timor at the Dutch government's expense to interview the same witnesses. Indonesian prosecutors, however, have drawn different conclusions.

A spokesman for the Attorney General's Office says Indonesia has not found strong evidence pointing to Battalion 745, which has now disbanded. Prosecutors not only doubt Amarillo's credibility, but also an Australian coroner's finding that Thoenes was killed by a gunshot wound to the back. The spokesman cites a conflicting Indonesian military doctor's report that says Thoenes died from a knife wound.

European Union officials are increasingly concerned that Indonesia will close the investigation without a trial. Under Indonesian law, an investigation, once closed, is almost impossible to reopen.

A key deadline for prosecution – March 15 – has already passed. It had been set as the final day for investigation. The Attorney General's Office says it has asked the Indonesian tribunal for an extension, but that it has not been granted yet. That leaves the Thoenes case in a legal limbo.

"Legally it is still possible," says a diplomat who is following the case. "If the political will is there, an extension will be given."

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