Subject: Timor judiciary to deal with militia cases

Indonesian Observer 12th January 2000

Timor judiciary to deal with militia cases

JAKARTA (IO) — The United Nations-founded judiciary in East Timor is set to begin dealing with 30 criminal cases, mostly involving rampaging militia members, from tomorrow, the UN announced yesterday.

In a statement from the United Nations Information Center (UNIC) in Jakarta, a spokesman for UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said the International Force for East Timor (Interfet) will today hand over more than 30 criminal cases to the newly established judiciary.

Two thirds of the cases involve militia activities, it quoted Fred Eckhard as saying in New York on Monday.

He said one of the first cases to be taken up by the judicial body may involve an East Timorese militia member, who was arrested by the United Nations Police in Liquica sub-district in connection with several murders last April.

The transfer of the 36 cases followed Friday’s appointment of the independent Civil Judiciary which will start working tomorrow, the statement said.

Also tomorrow, the United Nations Civilian Police will assume the principal authority for arresting, detaining and investigating criminals, Eckhard said.

Speaking at the judiciary’s inaugural ceremony in Dili on Friday, United Nations Transitional Administrator Sergio Vieira de Mello had called the establishment of the Civil Judiciary a "landmark in the history of East Timor" because it marked the first time that West Timorese judges and prosecutors have been appointed to office.

De Mello had also said that the appointment of the judges and prosecutors was the first step in building a judiciary with a "true commitment to the implementation of human rights and the rule of law."

The United Nations Police yesterday began exhuming a mass grave in Liquica, where local sources say seven bodies from the April massacre were buried, along with 11 bodies from the violence in the East Timor capital of Dili.

Around 250 people, some wearing badges of black cloth, gathered behind a barbed wire cordon at a beachside mass grave near Maubara yesterday to watch the exhumation of victims of East Timorese militia massacres in April, Reuters reported.

Many craned their necks to get a glimpse of the fragile remains placed on plastic sheeting by military and civilian police investigators. Others wept silently into their hands.

The black badges were worn by friends or relatives of the victims killed during violence in April and possibly buried at the site, 60 kilometers west of Dili.

Investigators expect to find the remains of 18 people, victims of an attack on a church in the nearby coastal town of Liquica on April 6 and a militia rally in Dili on April 17.

"If we lift 18 bodies from here today in this dig, that would bring the total number of bodies recovered in the Liquica district to more than 100," said Steve Minhinett, UN civilian police chief in the district.

By mid-morning the reasonably well-intact remains of two victims had been uncovered and the bones, some still caked with rotting flesh, were placed on a plastic body bag.

A skull with matted hair, a pair of tattered jeans threaded with a leather belt and a batik-print cotton shirt were also lifted from the pit.

"This one has a gun shot wound to the head and also to the chest," a UN investigator was quoted as saying.

The only sounds breaking the silence at the scene were hushed voices and waves breaking on the shoreline.

A group of small wooden boxes, about the size of a child’s coffin and draped in traditional cloth, were placed in a row beneath a tree in preparation for burial later in the day.

Sidney Jones, UN human rights chief in East Timor, said the April 6 massacre—in which up to 60 people were believed to have been killed—was a telling moment in East Timor’s recent bloodied history.

"I think the April 6 massacre was in many ways a turning point," she said.

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