East Timor Asked to Admit Wrongdoing
By PETER J. SPIELMANN
NEW YORK (AP)
29 January 2002
NEW YORK (AP) East Timor will have to face up to
atrocities committed by the liberation movement during the 25-year independence
campaign if the new nation
hopes for true reconciliation and peace, interim Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta said Tuesday.
The mandate of a newly established truth commission has
been extended back to 1974, when Portuguese colonial rule collapsed, partly so
that human rights abuses
committed by all sides and factions could be investigated, he said.
After Indonesian troops invaded and occupied East Timor
in 1975, civil war raged in the territory, with the main pro-independence
guerrilla group Fretilin battling other
factions and the Indonesians.
``In Fretilin-held areas of the mountains, there were
gross human rights abuses'' as serious as any committed by Indonesian troops or
their proxy militias,
Ramos-Horta, a co-recipient of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, told diplomats and human rights activists gathered at the Ford Foundation.
In touring East Timor and talking to villagers, Ramos-Horta said he was ``shocked by the number of Fretilin human rights abuses'' reported to him.
While East Timor's people need to examine those
atrocities, it is unlikely that anyone will be prosecuted or even called to
confess any crimes. Most of the guerrilla
leaders were killed in the independence struggle.
The current generation of Fretilin party leaders were all imprisoned or exiled during the worst of the violence, in 1976 and 1977, Ramos-Horta said.
Fretilin the Revolutionary Front for an Independent
East Timor won 57 percent of the vote in an election last year and secured 55
seats in the 88-member assembly
that will steer the territory to independence this year.
Ramos-Horta said he was aware of only one surviving
commander accused of atrocities in those days, Alarico Fernandes, who betrayed
Fretilin in 1977 and has lived in
exile on an Indonesian island ever since.
Last year, a U.N. court convicted an East Timorese guerrilla of killing a pro-Indonesian militiaman during 1999's post-independence violence.
Ramos-Horta is in New York as a guest of the World Economic Forum opening Thursday, and will also speak to the U.N. Security Council on the situation in East Timor.
He urged the United Nations to set up a criminal
tribunal to deal with the worst abuses in East Timor, as it sponsored tribunals
for the Balkans and Sierra Leone, but
was not optimistic.
``The U.N. Security Council does not seem to have the courage to do what is logical, to set up a war crimes tribunal,'' he said.
Ramos-Horta's briefing was hosted by the International
Center for Transitional Justice, a New York-based human rights group that
advises fragile new democracies on
how to balance demands for justice with the need for national reconciliation.
In the case of East Timor, which will make the
transition from U.N.-administered territory to independent nation on May 20, a
truth and reconciliation commission will
examine violence from 1974 to 1999.
During that 25-year period, about 200,000 East Timorese
are estimated to have perished first in fighting between supporters of rival
Timorese political parties in the
mid-1970s and then as a result of Indonesia's 24-year brutal military occupation.
The Timorese truth commission will operate for at least
two years. One of its functions will be to refer those accused of murder, rape
and torture to the judicial system
for prosecution. But it will also sponsor local committees to hear the confessions of lesser abusers, allowing them to do community service work to repay the damage