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Military denies East Timorese rebel leader still alive

Agence France Presse - July 3, 1997

Jakarta – The Indonesian military commander in troubled East Timor Thursday dismissed reports that rebel leader David Alex was still alive but said he would not block an independent investigation.

"He (Alex) has already been buried (last) Thursday in a humanitarian manner," Sidabutar told AFP by telephone from the East Timor capital of Dili, adding that it was a Roman Catholic burial. Sidabutar said the military had photographs of Alex after he was shot and while he was in the hospital "and the family is welcome to see them."

He added that members of Alex's family, through the intermediation of the International Committee of the Red Cross, had asked to see Alex at the military hospital in Dili on Wednesday, "but they (the family) said they were too afraid to come there."

Alex's family told AFP Monday that they had asked the governor's office and the military to see Alex's corpse but have received no reply.

"We want to know if he's really dead or not," Alex's nephew, Manual Mira, said by phone on Monday from Dili.

Sidabutar said Thursday that the military had "never" denied any requests by Alex's family.

"These rumors surrounding Alex's death came about because questions were being asked to irresponsible people. If you ask the rebels (about this), of course they are going to give a different story," Sidabutar said.

It would be "no problem" to have an independent team investigate the case, Sidabutar said Wednesday as quoted by the state Antara news agency.

"Be my guest, as long as it is according to Indonesian law. If they get permission to do it from the authorities, we will welcome them," Sidabutar said. The London-based human rights group Amnesty International has called on Jakarta to allow for "an independent and impartial investigation into David Alex's death... and for the results of the investigation to be made public."

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres vowed last week to use "all available channels" to get at the truth concerning Alex's death.

The military said Alex died on June 25 in a Dili hospital from wounds to his thigh and arms suffered in a shootout earlier that day in Baucau, some 115 kilometres (70 miles) east of Dili.

Sidabutar said anyone who had suffered wounds like Alex did "would have died," as quoted by Antara.

He also dismissed allegations by East Timor activist groups that the five people captured together with Alex had been tortured or killed.

"They are all in good health. I have met them personally to chat with them," he said.

Asked whether the five would be taken to court, Sidabutar said that the authorities needed time to "humanize" them.

"They have been living in jungle for so long, we need to give them clothes and so on. They also need to recover from their unrealistic idealism," he said.

"We hope that they will help us track others (other rebels) to give themselves up and return to the community," Sidabutar added.

The Indonesian military launched a crackdown following a series of rebel attacks on civilian and military targets in East Timor which began mid-May and have since left at least 37 people dead.

East Timor Police Chief Colonel Atok Rismanto said on Tuesday in Dili that 68 people were still under detention following the crackdown.

New York-based Human Rights Watch/Asia in a statement Tuesday called for a "full, public accounting of all East Timorese arrested since May 29, 1997, and their current whereabouts," claiming that more than 150 people have been arrested since that date.

Indonesian troops invaded the former Portuguese colony of East Timor in 1975 and annexed it the following year, but the United Nations still considers Lisbon to be its official administrator.