Subject: SMH/E.Timor: Call to support or scrap crimes unit

Sydney Morning Herald May 25, 2001

Call to support or scrap crimes unit

By Mark Dodd

Non-government organisations (NGOs) working in East Timor have demanded the UN mission boost support for its serious crimes unit or scrap it altogether and set up an international war crimes tribunal.

The director of the NGO Forum, Mr Arsenio Bano, said he intended raising the issue of the effectiveness of the serious crimes unit at an international donors meeting on East Timor to be held in Canberra next month.

The role of the unit is to gather evidence for the issuing of criminal indictments against those responsible for widespread political violence in 1999.

However, critics of the unit, including a number of its staff, complain of poor management, understaffing, lack of equipment and half-hearted support by the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET).

Established last June, the crimes unit has until now sentenced only five low-level militia, although indictments are pending against army and militia leaders.

Mr Arsenio said UN support for a South African-style truth and reconciliation commission had resulted in a contradictory policy of reconciliation with former militia leaders, many of whom are sought for war crimes.

The credibility of East Timor's fledgling judicial system would be judged on the success or failure of the serious crimes unit, he said.

The NGO Forum represents 68 national NGOs and six international aid organisations.

Accepting some shortcomings at the unit, a UNTAET spokeswoman, Ms Barbara Reis, said "the push to support the serious crimes unit is happening".

The unit employed 27 investigators working on 10 priority cases, and that number would increase to 30 by the end of the month, she said. She rejected accusations that the unit was too slow in delivering justice.

"Anywhere in the world trials of this kind don't just take place in a couple of months."

However, staff of the unit challenged her figures, saying only 17 investigators were based in the Dili office, and that would fall to 15 by the end of the month. No Timorese police work in the unit.

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