UN takes a small step toward justice in East Timor

The United Nations on Monday indicted 11 men for war crimes in East Timor.

A United Nations prosecutor in East Timor indicted 11 men Monday for crimes against humanity in what promises to be a first step on a long and contentious road to justice.

Among the accused is Lt. Sayful Anwar, a deputy commander of Indonesia's feared Special Forces Command (Kopassus) - the first Indonesian soldier ever to face international prosecution for war crimes.

The UN said it would seek Lieutenant Anwar's extradition from Indonesia to face trial in East Timor. The UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) is administering the newly independent territory until elections, which are tentatively scheduled for next year.

The 10 others were members of Team Alpha, a Kopassus-trained militia group based in the northern town of Los Palos. Nine of them are already in custody.

Mohamed Chande Othman, the UN's chief prosecutor in East Timor, said the indictments would send a message to Indonesia's military that there would be no impunity for the rampage that followed East Timor's independence vote in August 1999. More than 100 people were killed and 250,000 driven from their homes in a week of violence orchestrated by pro-Indonesian militias that were trained and organized by the Indonesian Army.

But the feeling in Jakarta was that Mr. Othman, a Tanzanian who was formerly chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, was putting the best face on an increasingly grim situation. The Indonesian military has said time and again it will not cooperate with Othman's efforts.

And human rights experts say it's now unlikely that the Indonesian government will be either willing or able to force the military to cooperate.

"The pressure has decreased so much compared to early this year," says Asmara Nababan, the secretary-general of Indonesia's National Commission on Human Rights. "There's been this increasing ultranationalist flavor in our parliament, which has created sympathy for officers and for those who actually committed the crimes."

Mr. Nababan also says that "the willingness to pressure Indonesia is no longer there."

The military has effectively stonewalled the efforts of UN prosecutors to question five military and police officers in Jakarta this week, despite the full cooperation of Indonesian Attorney General Marzuki Darusman.

"No … officer is to be investigated or questioned by UNTAET," Armed Forces Chief Admiral Widodo Adisucipto told journalists yesterday after meeting with President Abdurrahman Wahid. "The government rejects any intervention or meddling by foreign parties."

Against that backdrop, it's unlikely that an extradition will be allowed. While there was some sentiment for an international tribunal last year, UN support for one - particularly among the Security Council members who would control the process - has evaporated.

With the threat of an international tribunal removed, the chance for credible Indonesian prosecutions now appears "slim and none" says an official familiar with the UN's prosecution in East Timor. Mr. Darusman has promised to begin trials of 22 suspects accused of human rights abuses by the end of January.

The Team Alpha members were charged with massacring nine people on Sept. 25, 1999, near Los Palos. The victims were nuns, priests, aid workers, an Indonesian journalist and a 14-year old bystander. They have also been charged with forcing the entire population of Leuro village into Battalion 745's base in Los Palos.

Anwar, deputy commander of Kopassus in Los Palos, was charged with the mutilation, torture, and murder of Averisto Lopes on April 21, 1999, at the Team Alpha base.

Though Anwar's charged with a different crime, the move against him is part of an effort by Othman to tie Team Alpha more closely to Battalion 745, and particularly to Kopassus, members of which were seeded throughout the battalion.

UN investigators in East Timor say that 745's commanders are responsible for the murder of former Monitor contributor Sander Thoenes last September, and an extensive investigation by the Monitor early this year found that Team Alpha worked hand in glove with Battalion 745.

Othman made the strongest charge by a UN official to date in early December, saying "[Mr. Thoenes] murder is, we think, linked to the whole conduct of Battalion 745." He also added that further investigations "will definitely implicate Battalion 745" in Thoenes' murder.

Though Mr. Darusman has described the murder of Thoenes as one of his "priority cases" for prosecution, none of the battalion's officers is on his list of 22 suspects.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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