Subject: AAP: Timor deaths inquiry begins, at long last

The Australian 6 Nov 99

Deaths inquiry begins, at long last

From an AAP correspondent in Dili

UN investigations into human rights abuses in East Timor are finally under way, nearly two months after a multinational force arrived to establish security.

But UN acting administrator Ian Martin admitted yesterday that evidence of killings during the pro-Jakarta violence over a vote for independence from Indonesia on August 30 may have already deteriorated following early monsoonal rain and tropical heat.

Just over 100 deaths are being investigated by Interfet, the Australian-led multinational force establishing peace here, but accounts of mass killings in police stations and churches suggest the atrocities may have been on a larger scale.

Interfet has provided military police to investigate crime scenes, but the work is beyond their mandate of establishing peace and helping the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Both Mr Martin and Interfet commander Major-General Peter Cosgrove have already called for more resources for investigation.

"Certainly, the sooner people are here to carry out investigations the better . . . but the important thing is they are here now," Mr Martin told reporters.

UN special rapporteur Asma Jahangir, a specialist in summary executions, travelled yesterday to the destroyed town of Suai to investigate evidence of a mass killing in a church in early September.

Two more rapporteurs, investigating violence against women and torture, will be working over the coming days, while a forensics expert will assess what resources are needed to gather evidence.

Mr Martin said some evidence would already have broken down. "There's no doubt that because of the inability to have the forensic resources to investigate earlier, some evidence would have degenerated," he said.

He added that the team of rapporteurs would not conduct interviews in Jakarta because Indonesian authorities did not give it the green light to visit before coming to East Timor.

The three rapporteurs have a different mandate, approved in late September, from that of a five-member UN commission investigating human rights abuses, which is yet to arrive in East Timor.

Meanwhile, officials said yesterday that unidentified gunmen armed with automatic rifles had attacked refugees and UN workers in the West Timorese border town of Atambua. No one was hurt during the two attacks.

UN humanitarian co-ordinator Lise Grande said that on Thursday, a gang attacked seven trucks carrying 200 people to a port, where they were to be taken by barge to East Timor. Indonesian police escorting the convoy intervened but no arrests were made, Ms Grande said.

Seven gunmen returned to a soccer field opposite the UN High Commission for Refugees office in Atambua and fired 30 rounds over 90 minutes, she said.


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