FIRST-EVER TRILATERAL TALKS DESCRIBED AS HISTORIC EVENT
Three months ahead of East Timor’s independence, the Governments of Dili, Canberra and Jakarta today held a first-ever tripartite meeting, in Denpasar, Indonesia, described by ministers of all three countries as an historic occasion.
“The ties between our three countries go far beyond geography,” East Timor Chief Minister Marí Alkairi said. “There is a strong emotional link between our three countries that surpasses economic or political or other quantifiable factors. It is that special ingredient in our relations that makes today’s meeting so important.”
Indonesia Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said the talks had been “very frank, cordial and fruitful” and that the ministers had agreed to continue the triangular consultations in the future. “They will contribute to intensify the relations we have with East Timor and Australia.”
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer described the meeting as “a very substantial step forward in our relations and a commitment to regional stability and security.”
“I believe this trilateral meeting is particularly historic,” Downer added. “I think it is almost an extraordinary thing that in 2002 we're now the three of us getting together and working towards a successful future.”
In the three-hour meeting, which started with an open agenda, the three countries discussed the upcoming celebrations to mark East Timor’s independence on 20 May; economic development; cooperation in areas such as education and vocational training; refugees; the future of southwest Pacific relations; and cooperation on other maters of common interest such as security, smuggling and trafficking of people.
East Timor proposed that the police services of the three countries – United Nations Civilian Police and East Timor Police Service, Australian Federal Police and Indonesian POLRI – meet at a technical level very soon in Dili to discuss security issues. The proposal was welcomed by both Australia and Indonesia.
Australia announced a contribution of US$ 2 million to the United Nations Development Programme Special Fund for former East Timorese civil servants of the Indonesian Public Administration.
Like the previous day’s bilateral talks between East Timor and Indonesia, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Sergio Vieira de Mello, led the UNTAET/East Timor delegation but took a low-key role during the talks. He reiterated today that “we are weeks away from East Timor’s independence” and that East Timor’s leaders are the true regional partners of Australia and Indonesia.
East Timor’s delegation also included Senior Minister for Foreign Affairs José Ramos-Horta and other senior members of the Second Transitional Government.
GOV’T STUDY INDICATES 41% OF EAST TIMORESE LIVE IN POVERTY
A preliminary government report that indicates 41 per cent of East Timor’s population live in poverty and 48 per cent are illiterate was presented today to the Council of Ministers.
The preliminary Poverty Assessment report by the National Planning Commission is based on a survey of 9,100 East Timorese living in 100 villages or boroughs across the territory. The survey was conducted with the participation of the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the United Nations Development Programme and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency.
Poverty was higher in rural areas (46 per cent) than in urban areas (26 per cent), according to the preliminary report. Poverty was also reported to be highest in rural central and western East Timor (51 per cent) and lowest in the towns of Dili and Baucau (14 per cent).
The study also found that 46 per cent of adults never attended school. Not surprisingly, 49 per cent of East Timorese were reported to be illiterate, and an added 37 per cent were found to read with difficulty.
A final report is expected to be completed by the end of April. It will be used to help shape a government plan to combat poverty and to promote development in East Timor.
INDONESIAN TEAM INVESTIGATES KILLING OF DUTCH JOURNALIST
A team of Indonesian prosecutors arrived today in Dili to investigate the 1999 killing Sander Thoenes, a Dutch journalist slain while covering the eruption of militia violence after East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence in a UN-sponsored ballot.
The investigation team will spend the next several days interviewing witnesses and going over evidence already collected by investigators from UNTAET’s Serious Crimes Unit. A Dutch police investigator who participated in the earlier UN investigation is due to arrive in Dili on Thursday, 28 February, to help clarify the available evidence in the Thoenes case.
Thoenes was killed in Dili on 26 September 1999, a few days after INTERFET forces arrived to restore order in East Timor following weeks of violence perpetrated by pro-Indonesia militia upset with the results of the 30 August 1999 UN-sponsored popular consultation. Witnesses allege that the Jakarta-based Financial Times correspondent was murdered by retreating Indonesian troops on their way to West Timor, Indonesia.
An Indonesian team that visited East Timor in July 2000 also investigated the Thoenes case. The Indonesian Attorney General’s Office said in October 2001 that it hoped the case would be brought before an ad-hoc Human Rights Tribunal within a few months.
MILITIA CHIEF CHARGED WITH CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY
The General Prosecutor of East Timor issued an indictment today charging militia commander Bernadino da Costa – also known as “Mata Satu” – with nine counts of Crimes Against Humanity including murder, persecution and the forcible transfer of hundreds of East Timorese to West Timor.
The indictment states that Costa bears criminal responsibility for crimes committed by his Tim Sasurut Ablai militia in Same sub-district, Manufahi district, between April and September 1999. Operating under the direction of the Ablai Militia, the Tim Sasurut Ablai carried out acts of violence against civilians perceived as supporters of East Timor’s independence from Indonesia. Such acts included: seven murders; the detention of 400 people for several days prior to their deportation or forcible transfer to West Timor; and other acts of violence and intimidation.
Today’s indictment contains nine Crimes Against Humanity charges – five counts of murder; two counts of imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law; one count of deportation or forcible transfer of a population; and one count of persecution as part of a widespread or systematic attack on a civilian population.
The accused is still at large and believed to be residing in West Timor, Indonesia. Two of Costa’s deputy commanders – Benjamin Sarmento and Romeiro Tilman – were previously indicted and arrested and are slated to face trial in April 2002.
This is the 35th indictment issued by the UNTAET Serious Crimes Unit, and the 13th including charges of Crimes Against Humanity. At the moment the Special Panels for Serious Crimes of the Dili District Court are hearing 16 serious crimes cases.