East Timor weighs reconciliation cost

Men blamed for post-referendum riots and now stranded in Indonesia find ally in Timorese president amid amnesty debate.

     

    One year after elections, and 12 years after the riots that followed a crucial referendum, the central debate in East Timor, or Timor-Leste as the nation is now known as, is how best to maintain a still-fragile peace.

    Armed groups were responsible for massacres in the wake of that vote for independence from neighbouring Indonesia in 1999 that claimed 1,500 lives and forced more than 250,000 - one-fourth of East Timor's population - to flee the territory.

    Many of the men held responsible for the violence - former members of the pro-Indonesian militias - are still living in camps with their families in West Timor, in Indonesia.

    Explaining why they have still not returned to East Timor, Eurico Guterrez, a former militia leader, says: "They threaten us: they say we shouldn't come back because we betrayed our country, that we chose to be Indonesian so we don't deserve to return home."

    But these militia members stranded in Indonesia now have an unlikely ally: East Timor's president, Jose Ramos Horta, who has come out in favour of amnesties.

    Ramos-Horta told Al Jazeera that the Timorese people should "let bygones be bygones", although many are calling for the perpetrators of the violence to be tried in court.

    As Andrew Thomas reports from Dili, East Timor's capital, the big question now facing the young country is: Justice, no matter what the consequences, or integration, whatever the cost?

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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