E. Timor Atrocities Detailed
Saturday, January 21, 2006
UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 20 -- Indonesian security forces and militias they supported killed at least 100,000 East Timorese people -- and perhaps as many as 180,000 -- over 24 years through torture, starvation, arbitrary execution and massacres, according to a report presented to the United Nations by Timorese President Xanana Gusmao on Friday.
The 2,005-page report, which Gusmao delivered to Secretary General Kofi Annan, provided the most detailed account to date of Indonesia's brutal 24-year occupation of the island nation, a former Portuguese colony. It also charged the country's armed resistance movement with committing "serious human rights violations" after Indonesia's 1975 invasion of East Timor, including the torture and execution of pro-Indonesian prisoners, the convening of mock trials and the violent purging of dissenters within its own ranks.
East Timor's government said that it would not seek to prosecute those responsible for atrocities, citing fears that attempts to hold powerful Indonesian generals accountable for crimes could undermine fragile democratic transitions underway in East Timor and Indonesia. Gusmao told reporters here Friday that East Timor's hard-fought independence from Indonesia in 2002 would have to stand as the country's chief symbol of justice for victims' families.
"We have consciously rejected the notion of pushing for an international tribunal for East Timor because, A, it is not practical, B, it would wreck our relationship with Indonesia, and, C, we are serious about supporting Indonesia's own transition towards democracy," East Timor's Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta told a small group of reporters in New York. "In today's Indonesia or in the foreseeable future, there will be no leader strong enough who can bring to court and prison senior military officers who were involved in violence in the past. . . . They are still too powerful."
The report, key portions of which were made available to The Washington Post, also charged Indonesia with using napalm against Timorese civilians and using "starvation as a weapon of war," condemning thousands of adults and children to death in camps for displaced Timorese.
"The commission finds that the government of Indonesia and the Indonesian security forces are primarily responsible and accountable for the death of 100,000 to 180,000 East Timorese civilians who died as a result of the Indonesian military invasion and occupation," said the report by the East Timor Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation, set up by the United Nations and East Timor in 2001.
Indonesia's defense minister, Juwono Sudarsono, challenged the report's accuracy Friday, denying the country used napalm or deliberately starved civilians.
"This is a war of numbers and data about things that never happened," he told reporters in Jakarta. "How could we have used napalm against the East Timorese? Back then we didn't even have the capacity to import, let alone make napalm," he said.
The commission's three-year-plus investigation examined more than 71,000 reports of rights violations by Indonesia and more than 8,000 allegations against pro-independence militia from the Front for an Independent East Timor, which has accepted responsibility for past practices.
It also confirmed earlier reports that more than 1,500 people were killed in a series of massacres in 1999 surrounding East Timor's vote to break away from Indonesia.
The report painted a grisly portrait of Indonesian practices, describing beheadings, rapes, the sexual enslavement of Timorese women and children, and the torture of victims in the presence of their families. In some cases, torturers burned people alive and stuffed them in snake-filled sacks.
The panel recommended that countries and companies that provided military support to Indonesia during the 24-year occupation, including the United States, Britain and France, pay reparations to those whose rights were violated. It also urged U.N. members to deny travel visas and freeze the assets of senior Indonesian officials, including former Gen. Wiranto, the armed forces commander in chief in 1999.
A U.N. panel last spring recommended the Security Council set up an international war crimes tribunal if the two governments declined to do it. But Security Council members have said that while they support the pursuit of justice, it would be hard to justify creation of a tribunal that is opposed by East Timor. A spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations declined to comment, saying the report had not yet been formally presented.
Both the Timorese and the Indonesian governments have said they want to focus on reconciliation, not punishment for the crimes of 1999. In August, the countries established a truth and friendship commission to determine the facts surrounding the violence, but not to lead to trials.
Nakashima reported from Singapore.