East Timor's bitter enemies meet at last

The passage of time can have singular effects. How else to explain the meeting planned in Bali this weekend between Xanana Gusmao, the former East Timorese resistance leader, and General Wiranto, whose Indonesian forces laid waste to his homeland in 1999?

That Mr Gusmao, East Timor's President since independence in 2002, is willing to sit down in the same room as the former military commander illustrates the lengths to which he is prepared to go to safeguard the future of his tiny, war-scarred nation.

Indonesian troops aided by local militias killed at least 150,000 people in a vengeful rampage after East Timor voted for independence from Jakarta. Tens of thousands of homes were burnt down and a quarter of the population was forced to flee across the border into Indonesian West Timor.

Nearly five years on, as the country struggles to lift itself out of grinding poverty, pragmatism takes precedence over retribution. General Wiranto may have been indicted for war crimes by a tribunal in Dili, but he could be Indonesia's president within a few weeks, and East Timor - so the theory goes - cannot afford to alienate its largest neighbour.

Indeed, Mr Gusmao told The Independent on Sunday last week that he accepted General Wiranto's assertion that he was no more responsible for the bloodshed than the Pentagon was for the My Lai massacre by US troops during the Vietnam War.

"I say 'just forget the past'," he said. "Will the victims feel better if people are put on trial? They accepted the sacrifice to liberate the country. The East Timorese committed crimes also. We apologise, embrace each other and cry."

But the views of the former guerrilla fighter are not shared by all of East Timor's leaders, nor by ordinary people for whom memories of the 1999 violence - and the 24 years of brutal military occupation that preceded it - are still fresh.

The Foreign Minister, Jose Ramos-Horta, warned him that the Bali meeting could send the wrong message to both countries ahead of presidential elections in Indonesia in July, in which General Wiranto is a leading candidate.

Mr Gusmao's stance has also infuriated staff at the Serious Crimes Unit (SCU), the body set up by the country's former United Nations administration to investigate crimes against humanity.

It was the SCU's tribunal that indicted General Wiranto last year, accusing him of ultimate responsibility for the atrocities. But when it issued an arrest warrant for him this month, the move was denounced by East Timor's Prosecutor General, Longuinhos Monteiro.

The Wiranto case demonstrates the obstacles facing the SCU. Of 373 people indicted by its prosecutors, 279 are living freely in Indonesia, which refuses to extradite them. Of 52 defendants so far convicted, only one, Beny Ludji, a former commander of the Aitarak militia, is Indonesian.

The Dili government's attitude is another source of frustration. One SCU lawyer said: "There is no outcry when we indict a farmer who was brainwashed into joining the militia. But when we go after those who instigated and organised the violence, it's a different matter."

East Timor's Commission on Reception, Truth and Reconciliation, which is preparing a report on human rights violations, has staged public hearings around the country as well as "reconciliation meetings" between low-level militia members and their victims.

Kieran Dwyer, an adviser to the commission, said: "People told us 'we can reconcile at this level, but justice must reach those who organised the crimes'. How can people have faith in the justice system if they've seen their families killed and nothing happens?"

As the government pursues its policy of appeasement towards Indonesia, human remains are still being dug up and analysed in the SCU's mortuary. Dr Nurul Islam, the pathologist, wearily pointed out bones splintered by bullets and machetes. He has already examined 600 sets of remains. "So much tragedy in this country," he said.

Suggested Topics
people And here is why...
voicesBy the man who has
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in The Twilight Saga but will not be starring in the new Facebook mini-movies
tvKristen Stewart and Stephenie Meyer will choose female directrs
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Twerking girls: Miley Cyrus's video for 'Wrecking Ball'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

QA/BA - Agile

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently seekin...

Primary Supply Teacher

£121 - £142 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Primary supply teacher Hertford...

KS1 & KS2 Teacher

£115 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Luton: We are looking for infants and...

Secondary Trained Teachers for the watford area

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Qualified secondary teachers - ...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?