Global Policy Forum

Indonesia, Timor Leste to


By Irwan Firdaus

August 1, 2005

Indonesia vowed Monday to investigate the military-led violence that accompanied Timor Leste's break for independence in 1999, naming members of a joint truth commission who will have the power to probe the bloodshed but not prosecute. Work begins Thursday, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yuri Thamrin, calling it an opportunity "to heal past wounds."

The Catholic Church joined victims of the violence and human rights workers, however, in slamming the decision, saying only an international tribunal would bring justice. "The victims and their families ... deserve nothing less," Basilio do Nascimento and Alberto Ricardo da Silva, two bishops in the predominantly Catholic nation, said in a statement.

Nearly 1,500 people died when Indonesian military and their proxy militias went on a killing, looting and burning spree in 1999 after Timor Leste, formerly East Timor, voted overwhelmingly to end nearly 25 years of Indonesian occupation. The bloodletting continued until Australian-led international peacekeepers stepped in.

Jakarta has resisted pressure for a full-blown international tribunal, and Dili has gone along with it—saying it did not want to jeopardize bilateral relations. The two countries say their "Truth and Friendship Commission" will be geared toward reconciliation. For the next year, 10 panel members will interview people and review documents relating to abuses carried out by Indonesian security forces during East Timor's drive for independence, said Yuri. "They have the credibility and integrity to carry out this job," he said, noting that the five Indonesian and five Timor Leste members include a retired general, a legal expert, a priest and a judge, among others.

Timor Leste—which said the two countries have delegated US $1.5 million to the initiative—agreed. "We do not believe the establishment of an international tribunal is the only way to find truth or justice," said Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta. He said commission members would meet for the first time on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, primarily to discuss their agenda.

For some, the commission reflects the limits of East Timor's hard-won independence. Political, social and economic ties run deep and the tiny country sees no benefit in jeopardizing relations with its giant neighbor. East Timor, the poorest nation in Asia, gets more than 80 percent of its imports from Indonesia and is also dependent on its former occupier for electricity and gas. All flights pass through Bali island, and many of Indonesia's laws are still on the books.

"The commission has only been created to serve the interests of the two governments," said Domingas Casimira, 33, who's younger brother and husband were killed two weeks apart in 1999. "It has nothing to do with the victims." Others noted that Indonesia has already shown it would do everything it could to protect those behind the violence. Though Jakarta agreed under intense international pressure to try 18 suspects, most of them military and police, 17 were eventually acquitted. The other, a Timorese militia leader, is free on appeal.

More Information on International Justice
More Information on the Ad-Hoc Court for East Timor
More Information on East Timor


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