Subject: SMH: Many Timor Atrocities Likely To Go Unpunished

Sydney Morning Herald 28/10/99

Many atrocities likely to go unpunished

By DAVID LAGUE, Herald Correspondent in Dili

Superintendent Alan Castle was at church in Dili on Sunday when a fellow worshipper offered to show him evidence of a sin against humanity.

The veteran member of the Australian Federal Police, who commands the United Nations civilian police in the East Timorese capital, was taken to the city's outskirts and shown what was clearly a mass grave.

"There were at least three and possibly 10 bodies," he said.

Superintendent Castle's investigators and military police from Interfet will certainly investigate this grave and the scenes of other murders. But it is less certain that the victims' families will see justice done.

Police looking into atrocities in East Timor acknowledge that a lack of resources, evidence, experienced detectives, witnesses and access to suspects who fled to Indonesian West Timor will frustrate some investigations.

"Given time, people will see some justice," Superintendent Castle said. "In other cases, perhaps not."

Some senior police believe that in most cases where atrocities were committed with the suspected involvement of the Indonesian military - and there were many - it is unlikely that prosecutions could be mounted.

Military and civilian police have so far begun investigations at sites containing 95 bodies, with many more yet to be examined.

This is far fewer than had been expected, leading to suggestions that reports of militia violence may have been exaggerated despite the displacement of about 75 per cent of East Timor's 850,000 people and the destruction of most buildings and facilities.

Some investigators now suspect that no more than 200 bodies will be found.

But human rights activists believe the militias and their Indonesian military supporters may have removed many bodies. They also suspect that corpses washed up on beaches around the island suggest that an unknown number of East Timorese were dumped at sea during the short period when thousands were shipped to West Timor on Indonesian vessels ahead of Interfet's arrival on September 20.

While the true extent of militia violence may never be known, investigating the existing sites is a challenge for the civilian and military police.

Interfet's spokesman, Colonel Mark Kelly, said this week that military engineers helping to excavate a mass grave in a well at Liquica, 30 kilometres west of Dili, had been forced to stop and fill in the site after they had recovered 11 bodies. There were more bodies in the well, but the engineers judged it was too dangerous to proceed.

Police in East Timor are stretched thin while they wait for the full 1,600-strong international police force to arrive.

Superintendent Castle said the investigation teams were short of trained forensic specialists, pathology services and basic facilities such as refrigerators for human remains.

There was also the problem that many witnesses and suspects had disappeared.

The UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs Mary Robinson, has appointed a five-member panel to look into suspected breaches of international human rights codes in East Timor since January. The panel is expected to arrive in Dili early next month.

But some analysts suspect there will be little international enthusiasm for the vigorous pursuit of suspects, particularly if the investigations point to senior figures in the Indonesian military.

Australia has intelligence material indicating links between the violence and the military leadership, and the Howard Government has offered to co-operate with the inquiry.

In Canberra yesterday, a spokesman for the Foreign Minister, Mr Downer, said Australia was prepared to help with the investigations into human rights crimes in East Timor, but emphasised it was a United Nations matter.

While serious doubts remain whether the extent of the violence will ever be known or that justice will be done, hardened police like Superintendent Castle have been shocked at the brutality they have seen.

"I am horrified at the wanton cruelty that has been shown," he said. "It's just plain evil."


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