13 September 2009

East Timor militia leader's release a 'political decision': minister

Sept 8 (AFP) -- The release of an Indonesian former militia leader accused of taking part in a massacre of civilians in East Timor in 1999 was a "political decision", Justice Minister Lucia Lobato said Tuesday.

"It is a political decision that must be taken by the government to resolve this issue because it is related to our country's problems," she said without giving details.

East Timor's government had previously refused to confirm Martenus Bere's release but Indonesian embassy officials in Dili said the former militia leader had been in their custody since the end of August.

Bere was detained in East Timor on August 8, five years after being indicted for his role in the 1999 Suai church massacre in which up to 200 people were killed.

"As we all know, Martenus Bere has been given to Indonesia and we ask Indonesia to process him according to their court and justice system," Lobato told reporters after a church ceremony to mark the 10th anniversary of the massacre in Suai city in southern East Timor.

"It's the decision of the state and everyone has to obey the decision, although we realise that people sometimes might not agree or accept," she said.

The Indonesian army and paramilitaries went on the rampage after East Timor voted for independence in a UN-backed referendum in 1999, killing around 1,400 people and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee to other parts of Indonesia.

East Timor's leadership has been criticised for opposing prosecution of those responsible for abuses during Indonesia's bloody 1975-1999 occupation which killed around 100,000 people.

Lawmakers Tuesday protested at Bere's release by refusing to approve President Jose Ramos-Horta's work trips to New York, Denmark and Germany, opposition Fretilin party spokesman Jose Teixeira said.

Fretilin lawmaker Arsenio Bano said the East Timorese demanded justice for gross human rights abuses committed during the Indonesian occupation.

"This country needs a referendum to ask us directly, the people of East Timor, the victims and the people of Suai, what they want with justice," he told AFP after the ceremony.

"It looks like there is no rule of law, there is no respect for victims and respect for the constitution of this country," he added.

Ramos-Horta says restoring good relations with Indonesia is more important than "prosecutorial justice".

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