UN inquiry urges charges

October 20, 2006

The United Nations Independent Special Commission of Inquiry released its report on October 17 into the violent conflict in April and May in East Timor. The 79-page report found that the "frailty of state institutions and the weakness of the rule of law" were to blame for the conflict that erupted following the sacking of almost 600 soldiers from the Timorese Defence Force.

It recommended that some high-ranking state officials and all those involved in criminal activities be investigated and processed through the Timorese judicial system. High-ranking officials named in the report included former prime minister Mari Alkatiri, former interior minister Rogerio Lobato, President Xanana Gusmao, armed forces chief Brigadier-General Taur Matan Ruak, and police commander Paulo Martins. Each was accused of abrogating responsibility through aspects of their conduct during the crisis. Not all, however, were recommended for further investigation or criminal charges.

The report recommended that East Timor's judicial sector receive massive injections of aid and personnel, including international investigators, judges and prosecutors, to prosecute crimes. It also recommended that international personnel form the majority in judges' panels.

The report found that 38 people were killed during the violence: 23 civilians, three soldiers and 12 police. The report rejected outright the rumour that government troops massacred 60 civilians in Taci Tolu around April 29.

It recommended that Major Alfredo Reinado and several of his men should be prosecuted for suspicions of having committed "crimes against life and the person" during an armed confrontation in Fatu Ahi that claimed five lives. Reinado's forces were seen initiating an attack on government forces commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Falur Rate Laek. This shootout was filmed and broadcast by SBS TV.

The incident in which eight unarmed police officers were killed by soldiers and 27 more were injured on May 25 was also described in detail. "The shooting lasted about two or three minutes and involved at least 100 rounds of ammunition", the report stated. The police were being escorted by UN Police following a stand-off with soldiers, before they were fired upon.

On the same day, six people, including children, who were relatives of Lobato were burned to death after, according to the report, a mob of people surrounded their house and set it alight. After the events of May 25, the number of internally displaced people sheltering in temporary camps around Dili tripled. At the height of the crisis in late May and early June, 150,000 people were estimated to have been displaced.

It was widely agreed by those interviewed by the commission that the so-called east-west (or lorosae-loromonu) divide was manipulated during the conflict.

The report was scathing about the lack of weapons control in East Timor, particularly the "irregular" distribution of weapons. The number of weapons held by the police and armed forces fluctuated during separate audits from 2002 until now. Alkatiri and Lobato were reasonably suspected to have had knowledge of the distribution of police-issue weapons to civilians.

The report recommended that Lobato be investigated for the distribution of weapons to Vicente da Conceicao or Railos, weapons that might have been used in an incident at Taci Tolu on May 24 that resulted in a number of deaths. Alkatiri, the report urged, should be the subject of further investigation to see if he "bears any criminal responsibility for weapons offences".

The UN Commission of Inquiry was composed of three members, from Brazil, South Africa and Great Britain. It was set up at the invitation of the Timorese government in June. Its mandate was a mixture of fact-finding and developing recommendations on "measures to ensure accountability" for crimes and serious human rights violations.

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