By Alan SipressWashington Post
October 15, 2003
Joni Marques is in jail for his role in the ambush and murder of three Catholic priests, two nuns and their traveling companions in 1999, one of the most infamous incidents during this country's violent birth. As pro-Jakarta militiamen took revenge against those who voted weeks earlier for independence from Indonesia, Marques and his fellow toughs set upon the group when their Toyota four-wheel-drive slowed for a makeshift roadblock of rocks, according to court documents. The attackers riddled the vehicle with bullets. Those who escaped it were assaulted with machetes, including one nun as she knelt by the roadside in prayer. But the people Marques said were his bosses, and the vast majority of those charged with being involved in the militia campaign of killing, raping and looting, are in Indonesia, beyond East Timor's reach.
A special team of U.N. prosecutors, operating as an arm of the East Timorese government, has charged 367 Indonesians and their local underlings with involvement in the 1999 violence. So far, only 36 have been convicted, all of them East Timorese, while 280 Indonesians and East Timorese remain at large in Indonesia. The two countries have no extradition treaty and Indonesian prosecutors and other officials have shown little appetite for aggressively pursuing senior military officers. The armed forces remain the most powerful institution in Indonesia, one that few politicians, judges or lawyers are willing to cross. To blunt international criticism, Indonesia established a separate tribunal to try suspects charged with atrocities. The proceedings finished in August with the acquittal of 11 members of the security forces while four others were sentenced to short prison terms and remain free pending appeal, prompting U.S. officials and human rights monitors to call the trials seriously flawed.
But the leaders of East Timor disagree about the wisdom of trying to bring to justice those responsible for the killing. After prosecutors in Dili issued their most ambitious indictment to date, charging seven top Indonesian officers, including former military chief Gen. Wiranto, and the former governor of East Timor with crimes against humanity, President Xanana Gusmao of East Timor expressed dismay with the move, saying that close ties with Indonesia were of utmost importance. The military commanders, all generals and colonels, were accused of responsibility in hundreds of murders by militiamen under their control. Several of them remain active in the Indonesian military while Wiranto, now retired, is a leading candidate in the presidential election set for next year. East Timor's prime minister, Mari Alkatiri has been less critical. He said the prosecutions should not harm relations between the two countries and might instead help them come to terms with their troubled history. Reflecting the discomfort in government circles with East Timor taking the lead, Alkatiri said, "Justice for crimes of this nature is above all the responsibility of the international community."
Not having been ordered to change course, East Timor Prosecutor General Longuinhos Monteiro, who oversees the effort, said he is determined to continue. Just last week, prosecutors indicted 17 more suspects, including three Indonesian military officers, for atrocities near the country's second-largest city, Baucau. "To have justice for those crimes committed in 1999 will ensure that the nation of East Timor will develop with stability and respect for the rule of law and human rights, which is especially significant when a nation is born out of conflict, such as in the case of East Timor," Monteiro said.
Among those indicted in East Timor but still at large is Lt. Syaful Anwar, an officer with Indonesia's special forces, who prosecutors say was behind the attacks carried out by Marques and his men in the Team Alpha militia. "I did not do what I did because I wanted to. It wasn't my idea," Marques said in an interview in prison. But when asked to name names, his smile evaporated and his eyes reddened. He demurred, saying that as long as the Indonesian officers were free, he remained afraid they could get him, even behind bars in East Timor. "I don't want to die in prison," he said.
Though staffed by the United Nations, East Timor's serious crimes unit lacks the international standing of other war crimes tribunals, such as those for Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Indonesia has sloughed off the indictments. A question now increasingly asked in East Timor is whether the United Nations will continue to support the serious crimes unit after May, when the broader U.N. reconstruction and peacekeeping mission in the country is scheduled to end. "We haven't been able to bring to justice the most important players, those who committed the most serious crimes. We're still trying to bring them to justice through the international process," said Essa Faal, a Gambian lawyer who leads a team of eight U.N. prosecutors supported by 27 foreign investigators and police.
In Dili's Taibesi market, across from the concrete ruins of a military base burned by the Indonesians as they withdrew four years ago, East Timorese are anxious to see their former occupiers brought to account. "We are not satisfied with the trials so far," said Ferdinand S. Mawu, 20, a university student who works part time in a corrugated metal stall hawking green tomatoes and children's clothing. "The Indonesians who committed these crimes should be brought here for trial to satisfy the families who lost their property and who lost their brothers and sisters."
Like others in the market, however, he acknowledged that relations with Indonesia remain vital. Many of the goods for sale in surrounding stalls, from sugar and milk to cooking oil, detergent and the most popular brand of cigarettes, are Indonesian. The music blaring though the dirt alleys is Indonesian pop. Yet most of the East Timorese here say the prosecutions must continue. "Justice is the priority," said Ameli Bonaparte, a 32-year-old shopkeeper, scowling as she recalled seeing her uncle and cousin shot and then beheaded by machete-wielding militiamen. "Though we should have good relations with Indonesia, those who committed these crimes must be tried."
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