Trial Begins Over Massacre in a Church in East Timor

First Witness Called by Indonesia´s Human Rights Court

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JAKARTA, Indonesia, MAY 29, 2002 ( Indonesia´s newly established human rights court called its first witness from East Timor to testify over violence surrounding the tiny territory´s bloody independence vote in 1999.

Dominggos dos Santos Mouzinho, a 44-year-old housewife from the township of Suai, told the court in Central Jakarta how she took refuge in the local Catholic church the day before a massacre there, Reuters reported.

“On the fifth [of September] a group of militiamen burst into my house … I saw them, they were armed and there were quite a lot. They shot at my house, firing at the door,” Mouzinho told the court on Tuesday.

Four middle-ranking officers and a policeman have been charged with failing to give protection to 24 East Timorese refugees and three priests killed in the church on Sept. 6.

But the appearance of Mouzinho and plans to summon other key witnesses from East Timor has failed to convince human rights advocates that Indonesian authorities are serious about punishing those involved in the 1999 violence.

“The indictments are so weak that it is not clear that even strong witness testimonies will have an effect of actually proving crimes against humanity,” Jakarta-based rights expert Sidney Jones told Reuters.

Jones, Indonesia project director for the International Crisis Group think tank, also said the court´s narrow mandate would hamper the process.

A presidential decree covering the trials only allows for violence committed in April and September 1999 to be subject to trial, excluding hundreds of other cases of serious crimes during the independence process.

The wave of destruction and bloodshed was triggered by an overwhelming vote on Aug. 30, 1999, to break from 24 years of often brutal Indonesian rule.

Gangs of pro-Indonesian militia backed by elements of the Indonesian military laid waste to the territory, and the United Nations estimates more than 1,000 people were killed.

East Timor, still aiming to recover from the trauma, formally declared independence last week when U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan handed over the reins of power.

But Indonesia has done little to convince a skeptical international community that those responsible for the bloodshed would be brought to account. The authorities´ failure to put former military chief General Wiranto on trial with 18 suspects has been seen as a key flaw.

Jones also said Indonesia´s refusal to pay to bring witnesses from East Timor to Jakarta also showed a lack of determination. “If the attorney general´s office here really wanted to convict the people indicted then it would take on the responsibility of bringing them to Indonesia,” she said, adding that the United Nations had to bear the cost.

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