Subject: Killers walk free under UN rules

The Australian 30 Sept 99

Killers walk free under UN rules

From South East Asia correspondent PETER ALFORD in Dili

MILITIAMEN suspected of East Timorese atrocities are able to walk free from custody because the international peaceforce's UN mandate allows it to do no more than detain and question suspects.

This glaring gap in the capacity of the international force has been exposed, ironically, by Interfet's recent success in apprehending militiamen suspected of crimes committed in the final days of Indonesian military operations.

An airborne raid by Australian, British and New Zealand special forces on Come, in the north-east of the territory, captured 15 Alpha Team militiamen on Monday night.

Alpha Team has been accused of murdering five members of the clergy – two nuns, two deacons and a trainee priest – a journalist and a young girl in Lospalos, 20km south of Come on Saturday.

The militia is also suspected of killing nine civilians earlier last week.

As elsewhere, Alpha Team is believed to have worked closely with the Indonesian military (TNI) and Saturday was the last day TNI was active in that area.

The 15 militiamen caught by Interfet menacing several hundred Come people were armed with SKS semi-automatic rifles, grenades, swords and knives.

Interfet spokesman Colonel Mark Kelly said yesterday this was the first time the militiamen had been caught with military assault weapons.

But Colonel Kelly was unable to confirm reports that several detainees were carrying identity papers from the notorious TNI special forces unit, Kopassus.

Under questioning, the men identified themselves as Alpha Team members and gave useful intelligence on militia activity in the area.

"There is a requirement under the (UN) mandate with our agreed detention policy to retain them for a period of time, in which case information can be gained . . . they must be handed over to Indonesian Polri (police) officials at the end of that time," Colonel Kelly said.

In practice, most suspected militiamen are disarmed and released within 24 hours. In cases of more serious suspicion, according to Interfet internal guidelines, they can be held for 72 to 96 hours.

After that, Interfet has no other course but to hand suspects over to Polri and that is what Interfet's chief legal officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Drew Braban, claims has been happening.

However, as UN Assistance Mission in East Timor spokesman David Wimhurst confirmed yesterday, "essentially there is no Polri", since Indonesia's massive military and police pull-out from Dili ended on Monday.

"I understand there are about seven members of Polri left in the entire territory," Mr Wimhurst said.

He also confirmed that a prime atrocity suspect, Aitarak militia platoon commander Caitano da Silva, was still being held by Interfet, but only because "he requested to be held in custody for his own safety".

Interfet refuses to disclose how many militiamen have been detained, how many remain in custody and where the detainees are held.

The UN is now scrambling to lengthen the permitted detention time for suspects to two weeks and to begin the process of investigating crimes against humanity in East Timor.

The UN General Assembly on Tuesday passed a resolution to establish a fact-finding mission to investigate human rights violations in the territory since January 1.

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