Subject: AFP: Forensic centre to help probe East Timor rights abuses

Agence France Presse

Forensic centre to help probe East Timor rights abuses

DILI, East Timor, Jan. 14 Experts are to begin arriving in East Timor Sunday to set up a morgue and forensic centre to help in the investigation of human rights abuses, a UN spokesman said Friday.

The six-member team from the New South Wales Institute of Forensic Medicine in Australia will then tackle their first case: a mass grave at Passabe in the East Timor enclave of Oecusse.

"It's a big case. There are between 50 and 60 bodies ... discovered there for a while now. Rainy season has come. Some bodies have appeared on the surface, too," Refik Hodzic, of the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) told journalists.

The forensic team is arriving almost two months after Sergio Vieira de Mello, who heads UNTAET, said during a visit to Oecusse that evidence in East Timor was in danger of disappearing while the country waited for foreign assistance.

De Mello repeated his call for help on a later visit to Australia.

"We made a plea for the forensic experts, especially when Mr de Mello was in Australia, and this is the response we got," Hodzic said.

The UNTAET forensic centre will be staffed for up to three months by the Australian team who will then be replaced by experts from other countries.

Autopsy facilities, refrigerated containers and evidence storage areas for the morgue are being donated by the Asia Foundation and are to arrive on Tuesday, Hodzic said.

More than 250 bodies have been found in East Timor since peacekeepers from the International Force East Timor (Interfet) arrived on September 20 to stop a campaign of murder, arson, looting and forced relocation of the population by militias and their backers in the Indonesian armed forces.

Some bodies were simply buried by local people. Interfet military police exhumed and retrieved others, photographing their discoveries and taking measurements.

"There were no forensic experts present for any of the exhumations," Hodzic said.

Many of the victims remain unidentified and were buried at a special cemetery in Dili. They may be exhumed from there if forensic analysis is needed, officials said earlier.


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