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Indonesia Acquits Ex-Police Chief

August 15, 2002 GMT

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JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) _ A court on Thursday acquitted Indonesia’s last police chief in East Timor on charges of allowing five massacres of civilians in the province during its tumultuous break with Indonesia in 1999.

Relatives of Brig. Gen. Timbul Silaen and fellow policemen burst into cheers and applause when the verdict was read.

``I thank God that the judge has made the right decision and acknowledged that policemen were not involved in the violation of human rights,″ Silaen said.

The verdict was certain to outrage human rights groups and former independence fighters who consider Silaen to be a war criminal.

The United States, which cut off military ties with Indonesia because of the 1999 violence in East Timor, has been demanding that Jakarta hold its officials and officers accountable for human rights abuses.

Silaen’s verdict was seen a barometer of Indonesia’s ability to bring to justice the perpetrators of the bloodshed that provoked widespread international condemnation.

Implying that the government would appeal, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Hasan Wirayuda said the verdict ``is not final.″

``We shall see developments later on ... this is not a game,″ he told Jakarta’s Metro TV station.

Prosecutors _ who asked that Silaen be sentenced to 10 1/2 years in jail _ charged that he failed to prevent anti-independence militiamen and policemen from storming a church in the town of Liquica, 20 miles west of the capital, Dili, and killing at least 18 people. He was also linked to deadly attacks on a United Nations office, a church diocese office and the homes of two pro-independence leaders.

Five more military officers were standing trial Thursday in another courtroom on similar charges related to the events of 1999.

The trials of the 18 former officials in East Timor, including Silaen, have been widely criticized as failing to adequately portray the role of the Indonesian security forces in the violence. The United Nations and foreign governments say the security forces orchestrated the atrocities.

On Wednesday, the province’s former governor _ Abilio Soares _ was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in the bloodshed. It was the first verdict in the series of trials.

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, first proclaimed independence in November 1975, after the collapse of the colonial administration. Indonesia invaded 10 days later after obtaining tacit approval from then-U.S. President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

At least 100,000 people, mainly civilians, were killed during the guerrilla struggle that followed.

East Timor gained full independence in May, after a period of transitional rule by the United Nations.