Subject: Rights groups, exiles demand Timor probe before evidence is lost
Date: Sat, 02 Oct 1999 08:59:23 -0400

Rights groups, exiles demand Timor probe before evidence is lost

DARWIN, Australia, Sept 27 (AFP) - Exiles and activists warned Monday that crucial evidence of crimes against humanity in East Timor could be lost if the United Nations did not solve a row over an atrocities inquiry.

East Timorese resistance leaders and rights watchdog Amnesty International said investigators into alleged human rights abuses by pro-Jakarta militias and Indonesian troops must start work immediately.

"Indonesia cannot be trusted to investigate or try crimes committed by its own military forces," said National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT) leader Abel Guterres.

"The TNI (Indonesian military) remains untouchable within Indonesia and only the international community can call it to account."

Amnesty International workers in the Australian city of Darwin said immediate action was needed to safeguard suspected crime scenes.

"Bodies are being found of people who may have been killed in suspicious circumstances and in extra-judicial executions and we are calling for the sites to be secured," said spokeswoman Gill Nevins.

"We are calling on the UN to set up a commission of experts as the quickest way to make sure someone is sent out with the proper forensic and other expertise to examine them."

The calls came ahead of a meeting of the UN human rights commission later Monday in Geneva to discuss a European Union proposal for an investigation in East Timor.

Eleven Asian nations in the 53-member commission have argued Indonesia had already shown good faith by allowing a UN multinational force into the territory.

Tens of thousands of East Timorese fled their homes and hundreds were killed by pro-Indonesian militias after the territory voted for independence on August 30.

UN mandated troops in the territory have found grisly evidence of human rights abuses including decaying bodies stacked in a well and instruments believed to have been used in torture.

The bodies of two murdered East Timorese were exhumed by UN officials in Dili over the weekend and two graves each containing three corpses were discovered in the city Sunday, UN Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) spokesman David Wimhurst said.

Guterres suggested enough evidence already existed for the Indonesian military to be implicated in atrocities.

"Evidence gathered by respected human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch indicates that members of the Indonesian military may be responsible for such crimes, including genocide in East Timor."

He said the creation of a UN commission would be the first step towards setting up an International Criminal Tribunal for East Timor similar to those in place for Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda.

Interfet (International Forces in East Timor) spokesman Commodore Mark Bonser said the UN mandated force was not tasked with tracking down suspects.

"The Interfet mandate does not extend to dealing with (corpses), their mandate is for restoring peace and security and they are not structured to deal with that or investigate those matters in detail," he said.

"But they are reporting and aiding the authorities that do have a responsibility for that."

Nevis argued there was an urgent need for forensic scientists to use investigative techniques "tried and tested" in other conflicts, including Kosovo.

Their absence from East Timor was "an oversight on the part of people who knew very well that this kind of thing was happening," she added.

UNAMET, after making an aerial survey of destroyed towns in the territory, said Saturday there was an urgent need for teams to begin probing human rights atrocities.

It is not known how many people were killed in violence which erupted after East Timor voted for independence on August 30. Estimates range from hundreds to tens of thousands, but the extent of the carnage will not be known until the territory is secure.

Witness accounts have spoken of the bodies of independence supporters being thrown off ships deporting terrified refugees, and of independence supporters being dragged from departing convoys and killed.

Priests and nuns were targeted and at least five are confirmed dead, church sources say. Scores of refugees were gunned down as the militia flushed them out of church compounds.

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