East Timor militia leader ready to serve 10-year sentence

A notorious militia leader sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in a rampage that left about 1,000 people dead during East Timor's independence struggle is ready to go to jail, his lawyer said Thursday.

Eurico Guterres, who headed the Aitarak militia, which opposed the region's break from Jakarta, was first convicted in 2002, but his case has gone through a lengthy appeal during which he remained free. Indonesia's top court rejected a final appeal by Guterres in March.

He was expected to be taken into custody later Thursday at Jakarta's main Cipinang prison, after a three-hour flight from Kupang, Indonesian-held West Timor, where he has stayed pending the prosecutor's orders to bring him in, Suhardi Somomoelyono, a member of his legal team, told The Associated Press.

"Eurico Guterres is ready to go to serve his sentence," Somomoelyono said. He said Guterres was making final preparations and saying goodbye to friends and family.

In August 1999, East Timor's people voted for independence after 24 years of Indonesian rule during which rights groups estimate 100,000-250,000 people were killed.

The year leading up to the vote was marked by an upsurge in political unrest and violence when buildings, houses and shops were torched and looted.

After the vote, the Jakarta-backed militia went on a vengeful rampage that ended only when international peacekeepers arrived.

Guterres, shown Thursday on Indonesian television praying, has dismissed his trial as "a piece of theater."

He was one of 18 Indonesians, most of them senior military and police officials, indicted by a special ad-hoc human rights court set up in the Indonesian capital in 2002, reports the AP.

I.L.