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Tuesday, July 15, 2008 - Page updated at 04:40 AM

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Indonesia regrets 1999 violence in Timor

Indonesia's president acknowledged that his country carried out gross human rights abuses during East Timor's 1999 break for independence, but stopped short of offering a full apology Tuesday and said no one would be prosecuted.

Associated Press Writer

BALI, Indonesia —

Indonesia's president acknowledged that his country carried out gross human rights abuses during East Timor's 1999 break for independence, but stopped short of offering a full apology Tuesday and said no one would be prosecuted.

A bilateral truth commission, set up in 2005 to investigate the bloodshed, said Indonesian soldiers, police and civil authorities engaged in an "organized campaign of violence" against independence supporters, including murders, torture and other abuses.

The atrocities could be constituted as "gross human rights violations in the form of crimes against humanity," the team wrote in a 300-page report presented Tuesday to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his East Timorese counterpart, Jose Ramos-Horta

Indonesia "bears institutional responsibility," the commission said, and should apologize.

"We convey our deep regret over what happened," Yudhoyono said after signing a joint-statement accepting the team's findings and expressing "remorse."

"Let us not forget those who were victimized during this dark period in our past," he said.

East Timor voted overwhelmingly to end 24 years of often-brutal Indonesian rule in a 1999 referendum that triggered a burst of killing, looting and burning by Indonesian soldiers and their militia proxies that killed at least 1,000 people.

Only one Indonesian has ever been jailed in connection with the violence.

The commission, set up to head off demands by human rights groups for a U.N.-backed tribunal, was not tasked with identifying perpetrators of the violence or with recommending ways to bring them to justice.

"The focus was always on the responsibility of institutions and groups, not individuals," said Yudhoyono, adding that by helping uncover truth about the violence, the two sides could work together toward building a new, lasting friendship.

Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda agreed, telling reporters: "This is clear. I don't need to mention any person involved because it was not the object of the study."

East Timor's leaders - who are battling massive poverty, social unrest and rebel soldiers who almost killed the president in February - have not pressed for more trials out of concern it would upset Indonesia, its largest trading partner and giant neighbor.

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The release of the report Tuesday could well be the final chapter in the story.

Christopher Hill, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said earlier this year that Washington would consider the case closed if the two sides accepted the work of the commission.

"If it's good enough for East Timor and Indonesia, it should be good enough for us," he told The Associated Press.

The commission, which worked for months to find an account that would make both sides happy, was boycotted by the United Nations and leading rights groups, which said it would only serve to whitewash the crimes that were committed.

While welcoming Indonesia's acknowledgment of responsibility, rights groups Tuesday pressed ahead with demands for justice.

"Impunity continues for Indonesian perpetrators of the countless crimes against humanity in East Timor," said John M. Miller from the U.S.-based East Timor and Indonesia Action Network. "The report makes no progress toward achieving justice for the thousands of victims and their families."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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