Timor Leste government faces no confidence vote
Associated Press , Dili, Timor Leste | Mon, 10/12/2009 12:25 PM | World
Timor Leste's government faced a no-confidence vote Monday over the release at Indonesia's request of an alleged militia leader accused of war crimes in the slayings of women, children and priests in a church a decade ago.
The opposition Fretilin party put forward the motion in the house of representatives Monday to protest Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao's order to set free Maternus Bere on Aug. 30. The Supreme Court believes the move violated the constitution and has launched an investigation.
Gusmao, an independence-era icon who began his 5-year-term in August 2007, told the legislature at the start of the debate Monday that he accepted responsiblity for Bere's release.
"It was purely a political decision for our good relationship with Indonesia," he said.
The case has become a test for the infant nation, highlighting the continuing challenge to establish an independent and viable judiciary after breaking from hundreds of years of colonialism in 2002.
If half the members present in the 65-seat body support the motion, the government will be dissolved and new elections ordered within three months in what could spark new instability. It appeared set for a close vote, with house members bitterly divided.
"The government's decision to free Mr. Maternus Bere from Becora Prison clearly violated the constitution," Fretilin's motion said. "Only a court has the power and competence to order a citizen in prison to be freed from custody."
Timor Leste is enjoying relative stability after assassination attempts against its leaders in early 2008. Even those who opposed Bere's release may not support the bill for fear of disrupting the peace. A vote was expected late Monday night, said house speaker Fernando de Araujo.
An Indonesia national, Bere had been at large for 10 years until his arrest on Aug. 8 after crossing into East Timor from Indonesia for a family gathering.
Bere is one of the alleged leaders of the 1999 Suai massacre, when pro-Indonesia militias killed dozens and possibly hundreds of people sheltering in the village during the bloody aftermath of East Timor's referendum for independence that left at least 1,000 people dead.
Preparations for his trial were underway when he was handed over to the Indonesian Embassy as the nation marked the 10th anniversary of the historic Aug. 30 vote for independence, in which the nation of 1.1 million chose to break from Indonesia after 24 years of occupation.
Indonesia waited for confirmation of Bere's hand-over before sending officials to Dili, Timor Leste's capital, to attend a public ceremony with President Jose Ramos-Horta, an Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman has said.
Human rights groups say the handover demonstrated the weakness of the judiciary and that giving in to the political demands of powerful neighbor Indonesia undermined democratic institutions.
The United Nations has expressed concern and called for Timor Leste's leaders to abide by international law. Arrest warrants issued by a U.N.-backed serious crimes unit are outstanding for nearly 400 suspects in the 1999 violence, but Timor Leste has favored reconciliation rather than prosecution.