Subject: Investigation team finds 25 bodies in mass graves in Suai

Jakarta Post November 26, 1999

Investigation team finds 25 bodies in mass graves

ALAS SELATAN, East Nusa Tenggara (JP): An investigation team discovered at least 25 decaying bodies in three mass graves here on Thursday.

They were the alleged victims of a militia attack on a church in the East Timorese town of Suai in early September.

Munir, a member of the Commission for the Investigation of Human Rights Abuses in East Timor, told The Jakarta Post the remains were recovered from Oeluli beach, Kobalima district, three kilometers from the East Timor border.

Munir, on a three day fact-finding mission with committee member H.S. Dillon and a six-member forensic team led by the University of Indonesia's Budi Sampurna, said the bodies were buried one and a half meters deep in three closely located graves.

He said some of the bodies could still be identified.

"We got information on these mass graves from witnesses we interviewed during our first visit here in October," Munir said.

Quoting witnesses, Munir said the victims were killed during an attack on a church in Suai by pro-integration militia on Sept. 6. According to the witnesses the bodies were then transported to their current location about 20 kilometers southwest from Suai.

"We found three bodies in the first grave, 11 in the second grave and 11 in the third grave," Munir said.

He identified the bodies in the first grave as three Catholic priests who were reportedly helping refugees in Suai during the height of the violence in East Timor.

"We have performed autopsies on the bodies: One of them died of gunshot wounds and the other two died of knife wounds," Munir said.

He refused to disclose their names, but said one priest was from Central Java and the other two were from East Timor.

However Dillon later said that among the bodies was the remains of Hilario Modeira a priest from the Suai parish.

Munir added that in the second grave at least one body was identified as a child and three others were identified as women, while in the third grave two bodies were identified as women and two others as children.

"Bodies in the second and third graves were fully-dressed and we also found some school books and school schedules," Munir explained.

He said Thursday's exhumation, which began at 7 a.m., was witnessed by local police chief and officials. It was guarded by some 30 members of the police's Mobile Brigade unit.

"The bodies were then taken to Atambua hospital for further examination. Forensic experts will also bring hair tissue and other evidence to Jakarta on Friday for further examination," Munir said.

Munir and Dillon will personally bring the bodies of the priests to the East Timorese capital of Dili on Friday, while the other bodies will be handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross at the border.(bay/byg)


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