03/10/2005, 00.00
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Joint Truth and Friendship Commission set up

The Commission's mandate is to find the 'truth' about the 1999 violence but it cannot prosecute. The United Nations and the Catholic Church remain opposed. Human rights activists say that justice won't be done for the victims.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Despite the contrary view of the United Nations, the governments of Indonesia and East Timor have agreed to set up a 'Truth and Friendship Commission' charged with shedding light on the events that surrounded Indonesia's pullout from the former Portuguese colony.

Thus Jakarta and Dili seem to be putting an end to any real hope that those responsible in the Indonesian military and its East Timorese militias for the 1,500 deaths and 250,000 refugees caused by the pullout will ever be brought to justice.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his East Timor counterpart Xanana Gusmão signed the agreement yesterday, March 9, in Jakarta's Merdeka Palace, Indonesia's presidential palace.

Speaking to Indonesian daily Kompass, President Xanana Gusmão said it was time the two countries turn the page and focus on bilateral relations.

"Since 1999," he noted, "the political atmosphere has much changed and the Dili-Jakarta relationship has been getting much better".

East Timor's President did not deny that the two countries still had legal and territorial obstacles to overcome, but the Commission, in his view, would pursue a common goal, namely finding the truth.

The Commission will sit in Bali. It will start its work in August of this year and complete over a two-year period.

For Indonesian President Susilo the Commission is the best way to settle differences between the two countries.

This is clearly in contradiction with the United Nations' position. The world body has for months said that it was not in favour of the type of commission created by the Susilo-Xanana Gusmão agreement.

Instead, it favoured an independent commission of experts—rejected by Jakarta—to investigate the tragic events and those responsible for them as envisaged by a Security Council resolution in 1999.

The New York-based International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) has come out against the agreement, saying that it will not provide justice to the victims.

The Commission's mandate does not include prosecuting those guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. It does however have the power to grant amnesty.

The Catholic Church has also criticised the 'Truth and Friendship Commission'.  In February, Mgr Alberto Ricardo da Silva, Bishop of Dili, attacked the Commission, saying it lacked the support of the people.

According to the Bishop, past crimes must be tried "whatever Kofi Annan may say and whatever East Timorese leaders may want". (MH)

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