Rift looms as Dili mourns dead
LINDSAY MURDOCH, DILI
August 30, 2009
EAST Timor is under pressure to release an Indonesian citizen accused of leading one of the country's worst massacres, as hundreds of East Timorese attended a ceremony yesterday remembering those who died in the fight for independence.
The arrest of former militia leader Martenus Bere, an Indonesian provincial government official, has created a diplomatic headache for East Timor ahead of events today marking the 10th anniversary of the country's vote for independence.
Indonesian authorities are demanding the release of Bere, who allegedly led an attack on a church in the town of Suai in September 1999, in which three priests and dozens of people were killed.
Bere, a former commander of Laksuar, one of the most violent of militia groups behind a pro-Indonesian reign of terror in 1999, was arrested after he crossed into East Timor two weeks ago to attend a funeral ceremony for his father and pray at the same church where the killings took place.
Locals reportedly beat him severely before police intervened to save him.
Bere, who was indicted by a UN Serious Crimes Unit in 2003, would be the first Indonesian citizen to face a court in East Timor over the 1999 bloodshed that left 1500 people dead before and after the territory voted for independence. The case has the potential to cause a diplomatic rift between East Timor and its giant neighbour.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda is scheduled to attend anniversary ceremonies in Dili today.
Officials in West Timor cancelled a planned ministerial-level delegation from East Timor last week to protest against the arrest of Bere, who has been brought to a jail in Dili.
Jose Teixeira, spokesman for the Fretilin opposition party, said the government must not be influenced in by diplomatic pressure from Indonesia. "If Bere is allowed to return to Indonesia without facing trial, this would sound a death knell for justice in this country," he said.
The remains of 24 of those who died fighting for independence were buried at a ''heroes' cemetery'' at Metinaro near Dili yesterday. Family members wailed and hugged photographs of loved ones as the remains joined the graves of more than 400 other victims. Many of the bereaved said they wanted compensation from the Government and the perpetrators brought to justice.
Aquelinho Soares, whose uncle was killed fighting Indonesian soldiers in the 1980s, said most East Timorese believed "the actors behind these crimes must be held accountable".
President Jose Ramos-Horta told the gathering the Government would not give up the search for the remains of other victims.
More than 100,000 Timorese were killed or disappeared between 1974 and 1999.
But Mr Ramos-Horta made no mention of justice for the crimes.
Earlier, he dismissed calls for East Timor to support an international tribunal to put the accused on trial.
"If you went around with me, random around the country as I've done … meeting barefoot people all over the country - thousands of them, not one - not one raised the issues of 1999, not one talked about putting Indonesia on trial," he said.
Mr Ramos-Horta said the Indonesians would, in their own time, put those responsible for crimes in East Timor and elsewhere on trial. He said only a small number of human rights activists were calling for an international trial.
"And unlike many of them - these so-called international human rights groups and Timorese activists - I lost almost half of my brothers and sisters, and even myself was almost killed," he said.
"So I know what being a victim is. I know what is the pain of a mother who lost her children."
Governor-General Quentin Bryce will represent Australia at today's ceremonies in Dili, where Mr Ramos-Horta will present a medal to retired major-general Peter Cosgrove, who led Australian forces into East Timor in 1999 to quell violence..