East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta (left) inspects the troops in a ceremony marking 10 years since East Timor's vote for independence. --PHOTO: REUTERS
The Straits Times
The Straits Times
Aug 30, 2009
DILI - EAST Timor on Sunday celebrated the 10th anniversary of the UN-backed vote that ended a bloody 24-year occupation by Indonesian forces and ushered in the birth of Asia's youngest nation.
President Jose Ramos-Horta paid tribute to the thousands of people who died in what he called East Timor's 'epic battle' for freedom from Indonesian occupation between 1975 and 1999.
But he again ruled out any possibility of an international tribunal to try Indonesian generals and militia leaders responsible for the deaths of around 1,400 people in the aftermath of the historic referendum.
'My stated preference, both as a human being, victim and head of state, is that we, once and for all, close the 1975-1999 chapters of our tragic experience and forgive those who did harm to us,' he said in a speech.
'Those who committed crimes are the ones who have to live with these crimes and the ghosts of their victims haunting them for the rest of their lives.' Indonesia's former army chief Wiranto is among the senior Indonesian officials indicted by UN prosecutors for crimes against humanity over the referendum violence.
But Nobel laureate Ramos-Horta spoke of the 'shared sorrow' that Indonesians also feel for their soldiers who died during the occupation, as he addressed dignitaries including representatives from Indonesia and former colonial power Portugal during celebrations at the government palace.
'While I am respectful of all those in the US and UK who are most insistent on an international tribunal, I beg to disagree with their simplistic assertion that the absence of prosecutorial justice fosters impunity and violence,' he said.
The referendum saw 78.5 per cent of East Timorese vote in favour of splitting from Indonesia, which invaded in 1975. Just 21.5 per cent supported the idea of limited autonomy within Indonesia.
Elation soon turned to terror as the Indonesian Army and its proxy militias went on the rampage, destroying infrastructure and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee to other parts of Indonesia.
Australian-led United Nations peacekeepers restored order, ending an occupation that is estimated to have claimed around 100,000 lives through fighting, disease and starvation.
East Timor formally became independent in 2002 but its people remain among the world's poorest, with 40 per cent of the population earning less than one dollar a day, despite vast offshore gas wealth. -- AFP