- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 17, 2002

JAKARTA, Indonesia A long-delayed tribunal hearing into the violence surrounding East Timor's 1999 vote for independence began last week with the territory's former police chief and ex-governor facing charges over human rights violations.
Brig. Gen. Timbul Silaen, 53, and Abilio Soares, 54, are accused by Indonesian prosecutors of failing to stop gross violations, including killings, carried out by their subordinates. They consciously ignored information on the killings, which were part of a widespread, systematic attack against civilians, the indictment said.
The charges against the two relate to massacres in April 1999 at a church in the town of Liquica and at the Dili home of an independence leader. They also are charged in connection with two brutal attacks in September that year, at the Dili home of Bishop Carlos Belo and at a church in Suai town where refugees had sought safety.
As police chief of the province, Gen. Silaen also had authority over militia units, such as the feared Aitarak, which the indictment said were part of a "community law and order" program. Under an international agreement, Gen. Silaen was supposed to ensure security in the months leading up to the Aug. 30, 1999, vote on independence.
Mr. Soares, as the governor, organized a meeting of district government leaders where it was decided that political and militia organizations would be formed to support integration with Indonesia, the indictment charged.
Among those reporting to Mr. Soares was Eurico Guterres, the Aitarak boss and deputy commander of all the militia units, the indictment said. Mr. Guterres is among the other 16 militia, military and government officials expected to face charges at the tribunal. He watched part of the proceedings on the opening day Thursday from the spectators' gallery, which was packed with local and foreign journalists as well as foreign diplomats.
Human rights observers are concerned that the tribunal which began hearings only 2 years after Indonesian troops left East Timor in an orgy of killing, arson and looting is a show trial unlikely to convict senior Indonesian military officers.
For instance, retired Gen. Wiranto, armed forces commander during the 1999 violence, has not been charged.
Outside the court, The Washington Times asked Gen. Silaen whether he felt like a scapegoat.
"I'll respond to the charges against me. We're not here to talk about goats," he said.
While prosecutors read the charges against Gen. Silaen and Mr. Soares, about 80 scruffy-looking youths shouted from the street below. They carried signs denouncing the U.N. administration in East Timor, as well as Australia, Portugal and the Fretilin party that fought for East Timor's independence. The youths wore headbands from the Indonesian People's Unity Front, which had demonstrated in support of Mr. Guterres when he appeared in court on unrelated matters.
Mr. Soares, wearing an expensive-looking suit, sat alone facing a panel of five judges. He told them he did not understand the charges and said they ignored East Timor's 24-year history of "civil war."
He did not mention the fact that Indonesia invaded the territory in 1975.
His defense team suggested they wanted to ask Indonesia's top legislature and Supreme Court to rule on the validity of the tribunal, but the chief judge simply gave them one week to prepare a defense.
Gen. Silaen's attorneys presented a 29-page defense that argued the human rights court had no authority to hear the case. They also said the general had issued orders to investigate and restrain the acts of violence.
If convicted, the accused face a minimum of 10 years in prison. The most severe punishment is death.

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