Subject: Age: Timor's crime fighters in crisis

The Age May 1, 2001

Timor's crime fighters in crisis


The United Nations' Serious Crimes Unit, the taskforce gathering evidence to prosecute perpetrators of the violence that swept East Timor in 1999, is on the point of collapse.

Morale is at rock bottom and qualified investigators are quitting amid claims that the unit is under-equipped and badly managed.

In January the UN sent a senior official to report on problems in the taskforce, now dubbed the "Not-So-Serious Crimes Unit" by its staff.

Over the past fortnight, three staff members have resigned, including two senior investigators, one of whom was the sole investigator into the murder of 70 independence supporters in the Oecussi enclave.

The unit is currently without a forensic pathologist, although more than 30 sets of human remains await examination in Dili. A replacement is expected to arrive this month.

One Australian Federal Police officer working at the unit is investigating on his own more than 300 individual homicides, including the murders of UN staff.

A frustrated investigator said that at times he wondered if the unit and the UN transitional administration were on the same side. "They (UNTAET) are holding reconciliation negotiations with militia leaders we want to arrest," he said.

The UN chief prosecutor in East Timor, Mohamed Othman, admitted yesterday that there were shortages. He said specialist investigators in the field of homicide and sex crimes were urgently required.

But Mr Othman, a Tanzanian judge with experience at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, said he still expected indictments for crimes against humanity against senior Indonesian commanders and civil administrators by the end of the year.

Many staff of the unit blame their Norwegian chief, Oyvind Olsen. Critics say he has little understanding of the situation in East Timor in 1999 and has been slow to support prompt investigations.

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