Members of the Commission of Truth and Friendship said on Friday they were delving into documents from previous investigations and court proceedings to establish the "conclusive truth" about violence that marred East Timor's vote for independence in 1999.

Achmad Ali, an Indonesian commission member, said: "The 10-member commission will then submit its findings to the governments of Indonesia and East Timor."

"We are not a judicial body and don't have judicial powers. The government will decide what to do with our recommendations."

"But I'm sure that our recommendations will not be used by the governments to conduct judicial proceedings," he said, adding that the government might opt for some kind of restitution for the victims.

Benyamin Mangkudilaga, co-chairman, said the commission would start questioning people in January. Indonesia's armed forces chief at the time of the violence, General Wiranto, would be among those summoned, he said.

Hundreds died during East Timor's 
drive for independence

An investigative team set up by Indonesia's human rights commission in 2000 said Wiranto was "morally responsible" for the violence but he was never indicted.

The truth commission was established in August and comprises five Indonesians and five East Timorese. It has a work period of one year but may be extended.

South African model

Modelled along lines similar to South Africa's post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the body aims at reconciliation rather than recrimination over deadly violence by pro-Jakarta militias during East Timor's 1999 drive for independence.

Militia gangs, which the United Nations has said were recruited and directed by Indonesia's military, went on an arson and killing spree before and after the East Timorese voted for independence in a UN-sponsored ballot.

They killed about 1400 independence supporters and laid waste to much of the infrastructure in the half-island, which was a Portuguese colony before Indonesia annexed and invaded it in the mid-70s.

Indonesian tribunal

An Indonesian ad-hoc tribunal set up to try military officers and officials for atrocities in East Timor was widely condemned as a sham for failing to jail any Indonesians.

Of the 18 people tried by the rights court, 17 have now been acquitted and one is still appealing. 

"We should not foreclose the possibility of an international tribunal"

Felicidade Guterres,
East Timorese member of the truth commission

Felicidade Guterres, an East Timorese member of the truth commission, said that while the body had no judicial powers, an international tribunal could not be ruled out.

"We should not foreclose the possibility of an international tribunal. There has been a lot of disappointment with the failure of [Indonesia's] ad-hoc tribunal," she told Friday's press conference.

East Timor gained full independence in May 2002 after more than two years of UN stewardship.