DILI - East Timorese policymakers are increasingly frustrated by the growing gap between their desire for friendly relations with Indonesia and public demands to bring Indonesian human-rights violators to justice.
This point was underlined during a recent visit to East Timor by former Indonesian foreign minister Ali Alatas, who served as a guest of President Xanana Gusmao. Alatas presided over Indonesian foreign policy between 1988 and 1999, the latter portion of his country's 24-year military occupation over East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, which became independent in May 2002.
The idea that both sides should put the violent past behind them and move on - championed by the president and Timorese Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta - was not in dispute, but the Timorese public made it clear that such action should not be at the expense of historical truth.
The visit was a mutually back-slapping affair during which Gusmao worked to keep the atmosphere cordial while underlining that both sides have much common ground to build on in the coming years. Moderating the seminar on international relations at which Alatas, 70, was keynote speaker, Gusmao refused even to accept questions referring to the past.
East Timor since the country's independence, and many local journalists rejected the gloss and demanded accountability instead. They pressed him for some statement of repentance for human-rights abuses of the past.
It was Alatas' first visit to
East Timorese who dealt with Alatas as foreign minister knew him as a man who held slightly liberal views in private, and he eventually worked with the Portuguese foreign minister on the United Nations-brokered agreement that led to East Timor's 1999 independence referendum. It was this role that earned him the gratitude and friendship of Gusmao and Horta. Publicly, however, he has never admitted to previous wrongdoing - his reputation was as a loyal mouthpiece of the Suharto dictatorship.
East Timor during your years as foreign minister?" he asked. The ex-minister, now an adviser to Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri (and currently on a trouble-shooting mission to Myanmar), lost his habitually cool demeanor.
Prize-winning local journalist Jose Belo confronted him in barely controllable anger. "Do you have any regrets for the suffering imposed on
"You don't have to ask me the question now because, during all the years, I was publicly on record, whenever something happened, that I regretted it!" an irritated Alatas asserted."I didn't agree with it, and I wanted to have the people brought to justice."
The local press's desire to penetrate the humbug was shared by Bishop Carlos Belo, a Nobel Peace laureate. At the seminar he told journalists he disagreed with Alatas' refusal to discuss the past. "We should look to the future, but we must not forget the past," he said. "For all of Mr Alatas' merits, he was a spokesman for the Suharto regime."
The growing rift between foreign policy and the Timorese clamor for war-crimes trials is long-standing, and has been complicated by UN ambivalence on the issue of justice. In 1999 the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling for the prosecution of Indonesians and East Timorese responsible for the violence accompanying East Timor's referendum, which destroyed much of the country's infrastructure, led to the forced deportation of about 250,000 people and left more than 1,000 dead.
The resolution outlined a two-track policy for prosecutions, by which Indonesia would have responsibility for trying perpetrators and a Serious Crimes Unit (SCU), established in Dili, would investigate the violence. It also allowed for the later establishment of an international court if the two-track policy were deemed a failure. As a result Jakarta established the Ad Hoc Tribunal on East Timor, which has now heard its last case.
Jakarta's refusal to respond to arrest warrants issued by the Timorese court for the majority of 232 indicted suspects living at large in Indonesia. The general pattern has been that those accused of command responsibility walk free in Indonesia, while Timorese followers are jailed.
Those indicted by the SCU are now tried before a special international panel of judges in Dili. More than 30 East Timorese have now been convicted in Dili and are serving terms of up to 33 years. Attempts to bring Indonesian suspects to trial in the same cases have been stalled by
After independence, the SCU came under the authority of East Timor's chief prosecutor, Longuinhos Monteiro, although it is still funded by the UN and is answerable to the world body. But despite the fact that light sentences handed out by the ad hoc court in Jakarta have been roundly criticized in human-rights circles, UN backing for the Dili prosecutions has remained lukewarm in recent times.
The issue has been further complicated by divisions among East Timorese leaders. Xanana is determined that national unity and work to improve relations with Indonesia will not be sacrificed to prosecutions of either Timorese ex-militiamen or Indonesian officers, a view shared by Horta. Mari Alkatiri, leader of the Fretilin government, insisted until a state visit to Jakarta in June that Indonesian perpetrators should be tried, including former defense chief General Wiranto, who has been indicted by the SCU. Yet after his visit, Alkatiri changed his stand. He told Portugal's Lusa news agency that he was with Gusmao in seeking "a pragmatic approach which will allow our relations to develop", stating that it was "impractical" to bring perpetrators to court.
Those supporting prosecutions are in an invidious position. In particular, Monteiro has been increasingly isolated as he presses on with cases investigated by the SCU. In February East Timor became a member of Interpol, offering a new strategy to bring Indonesian suspects before the Dili court. Since then the Timorese prosecutor has obtained 32 Interpol arrest warrants, allowing for the immediate arrest of any person on the Interpol list if they travel outside of Indonesia, to be handed over to Dili authorities.
In an interview with Asia Times Online, Monteiro spoke of his frustration, and his determination to continue prosecutions. The independence of the judiciary from political power is well established in the new Timorese republic, but he stressed that he is nevertheless dependent on government policy. He said he would drop prosecutions if foreign policy demanded it, but "until then ... I will continue the accusations". He added that he has the formal backing of the government but feels a lack of strong moral support.
Monteiro said he was concerned that East Timor could face internal problems if it drops cases against Indonesian human-rights violators to further good relations with Jakarta: "I have always argued that we should keep this process going to avoid internal problems, because if we close the doors of the SCU we will have problems." Monteiro said he had been informed by the UN that it will continue backing the SCU - but only if the government agrees.
Justice Minister Domingos Sarmento said the prosecutor has the government's full backing, "but the area of serious crimes is a UN, not a Timorese government, responsibility ... it's up to it to establish an international tribunal". He said it was not necessary to ask government approval: "If war crimes have been committed, the UN must establish an international court."
The latest Interpol warrants were issued around the time of Alatas' Dili visit. Among those listed was Colonel Burhanuddin Siagian, the most senior Indonesian officer dealt with by Interpol to date. (A warrant could eventually be served for Wiranto, whose chances of standing for the Indonesian presidency next year would be affected by his inability to travel abroad.)
Siagian was the commander of Bobonaro district in 1999 and has since risen to be the third-ranking officer in the Bali-based command of the eastern Indonesian region. He is accused of committing crimes against humanity during two massacres in Bobonaro.
The "wanted" entry for Siagian now appears in the Indonesia section of Interpol's world page alongside alleged JI terrorist Hambali (who remains there despite his arrest in August). Warrants were also issued for his deputy, Lieutenant Sutrisno, and Timorese militia leader Joao Tavares.
A Timorese parliamentarian who was tortured under Siagian's command said he was happy Siagian was on Interpol's wanted list. Jose Andrade was blinded in one eye during 12 hours of torture in March 1999, during which he was brought before the Indonesian commander.
"Siagian told me he would finish me off that night," he claimed, "and that he would kill my family to the seventh generation."
However, he said he sympathized with the problems of East Timorese leaders working to improve relations with Indonesia. "We need to become good neighbors with Indonesia," he said, "but not at the expense of justice."