East Timor bishops back UN proposal for an international tribunal
"The decision of the governments of East Timor and Indonesia about the Commission for Truth and Friendship is political. An international tribunal is needed," say Mgr do Nascimento and Mgr da Silva.

Dili (AsiaNews/Agencies) – "The Catholic Church requests the continued intervention of the United Nations to achieve justice for the people of East Timor," Timorese Bishops Basilio do Nascimento and Alberto Ricardo da Silva said today in a statement.

The two prelates are backing a UN proposal for an international tribunal to shed light on the events that followed the 1999 independence referendum, when local militias, backed by the Indonesian army, massacred 1,500 East Timorese, forcing another 250,000 to flee.

"We hope that the voice of the population of East Timor, which suffered as a result of the impunity (of the aggressors), can be heard," the Bishops said.

Jakarta and Dili have rejected the recommendation of a UN Commission for the creation of an international tribunal, holding that it would wreck bilateral relations between East Timor and Indonesia.

Back in March, the two governments set up a ten-member bilateral Commission for Truth and Friendship, five for each side.

Beginning this coming Thursday, the Commission will start hearing witnesses and reviewing documentation, without however having any power to pursue anyone before a court of law for war crimes or crimes against humanity.

"We do not believe the institution of an international tribunal is the only way to find justice and truth," said East Timorese Foreign Affairs Minister José Ramos Horta in his response to the two bishops, who accused him of having taken a decision of purely a political nature.

The bilateral Commission was modeled along the South African Commission for Truth and Reconciliation—it has a one-year mandate and is based in Bali.

The East Timorese Bishops denounced "the decision of political leaders to deny the Timorese people the right to justice . . . East Timor is a nation with a Catholic majority that cannot support the governments' policy of impunity."