Subject: Interview: Timor's Belo says rights probe too late

INTERVIEW-Timor's Belo says rights probe too late

By Joanne Collins

DILI, East Timor, Nov 15 (Reuters) - East Timor spiritual leader Bishop Carlos Belo on Monday condemned U.N. slowness over an inquiry into abuses in the territory, saying evidence had long gone.

``It is too late already,'' he told Reuters in an interview. ``We still don't have this team present in East Timor and... some of the bodies have already disappeared and some of the places where the crimes were committed have already been cleaned up.''

A five-member U.N. human rights team is not due until November 24 -- more than six weeks after violence erupted following the East Timorese vote to split from Indonesia.

The United Nations has come under mounting criticism for its slowness in sending a special commission to investigate the violence that erupted when pro-Jakarta militias went on the rampage after the August 30 U.N.-run ballot.

``The final rubber stamp is being put on the commission in New York today.'' a U.N official in Dili said.

Belo said he believed the U.N, in seeking to maintain good diplomatic relations with Indonesia, had stalled too long on approving the commission.

``This diplomacy... is giving Indonesia the opportunity to avoid the institution or establishment of this tribunal,'' the Nobel peace laureate said.

Hundreds of thousands of East Timor's 800,000 people fled their homes during the rampage that wrecked virtually every village and town across the impoverished territory, but numbers of dead and missing remain sketchy.

Locals said hundreds of people were killed by the militia, but so far a multinational force sent in to restore peace has not found hard evidence of mass killings.

Belo's remarks come on the eve of Tuesday's arrival of Sergio Vieira de Mello, who will head the U.N. mission overseeing the territory's transition to independence.

De Mello has said his top priority would be to establish a credible system of justice.

Belo also joined other local leaders in criticising the United Nations and aid agencies over problems with aid delivery and the failure to train local workers.

``They would not be here forever so they must prepare the local people to take more responsibility,'' Belo said.

``The problem is everything, not only food distribution, medicine and shelter. (Rebuilding)... must involve the Timorese people because they know the situation.''

06:41 11-15-99

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