Thu, 10 Mar 2005

RI, E. Timor seal deal on past atrocities

Ivy Susanti and Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

East Timor President Xanana Gusmao said on Wednesday that the Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF), jointly set up with Indonesia, would seek to uncover the truth and not seek vengeance.

"The Commission is committed to seeking the truth. The commission is open to searching for the truth. Amnesty, impunity are not the objectives of the commission," Xanana told the press after formalizing the joint CTF.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Xanana and his Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, signed an agreement at the presidential palace here to set up the commission to deal with human rights atrocities committed by pro-Jakarta militias in the wake of the 1999 vote for independence in East Timor.

Alkatiri added that the commission would submit its findings to the responsible institution as the basis for any decision- making, whether it would be an amnesty for the perpetrator or impunity.

"The commission has no political or judicial power. It can't give an amnesty to anybody. This is a kind of commission of experts, that can only make recommendations to institutions like parliaments. The truth could help them to make decisions," he said.

The agreement followed the making of a commitment by both countries in December to the establishment of the commission, which will start its two-year mission on Aug. 10.

Through the commission, both governments are trying to show their goodwill in resolving the past abuses in Indonesia's former province of East Timor, and have vowed to move forward toward better bilateral cooperation in the future.

Observers have expressed skepticism about the joint commission, arguing that it is merely a ploy by Indonesia to whitewash any human rights violations and escape justice.

The Indonesian government has said that it was prioritizing an amicable reconciliation, including between the violators and victims.

But the United Nations is not convinced by the move. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced last month that the UN would create a Commission of Experts to review whether justice had been done.

Susilo said that Indonesia considered the establishment of the CTF as "the best and the most feasible means" of settling residual problems with East Timor following its separation from Indonesia.

"We want to build authentic friendship and cooperation with East Timor in the future. I think it is better than the establishment of a similar commission aimed at reviewing the performance of the rights tribunal here as the legal process is still ongoing," he said, referring to the UN commission.

Xanana said that his government accepted the UN commission, which Indonesia termed "redundant", and hoped that it could complement the Commission of Truth and Friendship.

"We will cooperate to reveal the truth," he said, adding that there had been no concessions whatsoever to the Indonesian government on the judicial processes against some Indonesian military officers implicated in crimes against humanity.

The UN-sponsored Special Crimes Unit, set up in Dili to try Indonesian soldiers and Timorese militiamen, had jailed 74 Timorese culprits, but was powerless to extradite Indonesian commanders. The Unit is scheduled to close down when the UN mission leaves East Timor in May.

The Indonesia's ad-hoc court wound up last year after acquitting all but one of the 18 alleged perpetrators who appeared before it.

The CTF will consist of five Indonesians and five Timorese, appointed by the governments of each country, Xanana said. It will set up office in Bali, and have complementary offices in Jakarta and Dili. The commission will be funded by the Indonesian and East Timorese governments.

Xanana expressed the hope that the commission would be able to satisfy the wishes of both countries and the international community.

"The Commission of Truth and Friendship will provide not only both states, but also the rest of the international community, with the necessary tools to understand clearly what went on in 1999," he said.