Subject: NPR: Number of killed still unknown

April 28, 2000



It's been almost eight months since East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia. In the weeks that followed the referendum, pro-government militias killed hundreds of civilians. A United Nations team now is attempting to determine exactly how many were killed and who's responsible. Patricia Nunan reports.

(Soundbite of air conditioner)


In a heavily air-conditioned morgue outside of Dili, a forensics team is examining the remains of victims of the bloodshed last September.

Dr. MICHAEL PULLANAN: The auricular surface is severely ...(unintelligible) vs. the ...(unintelligible).

Dr. KATHY GRUPIER: ...(Unintelligible) synthesis.

NUNAN: Two Canadian doctors on contract with the United Nations--Michael Pullanan(ph) and Kathy Grupier(ph)--are attempting to determine the cause of death of a young man killed during the militia violence. Along with Bob Stair(ph), a crime examiner, they're part of an international team sent to East Timor to collect evidence of mass killings. Bob Stair says the forensics team has barely put a dent in the amount of work it believes is yet to be done.

Mr. BOB STAIR (Criminal Examiner): We've probably worked to completion--as far as right from the grave site right to the finished post-mortems, the completed death certificates, the complete reports and everything--probably in the neighborhood of around 25 individuals.

NUNAN: In the months since the violence took place, investigators have been able to confirm fewer than 300 deaths as a result of the militia's rampage--a significant number, but not the thousands of victims feared to have been killed when the bloodshed first erupted. Now with UN civilian police establishing better contacts further afield in East Timor, more information about alleged mass graves and missing people is being provided by ordinary East Timorese on an almost daily basis. Sydney Jones(ph), the head of the UN human rights unit for East Timor, says the new informations is enough for the UN to revise its estimates as to the number of deaths that occurred.

Ms. SYDNEY JONES (Head, United Nations Human Rights Unit for East Timor): I think we're finding out the initial estimates were too high. The subsequent estimates were probably too low. It got down to a point where one person here was saying only a few hundred people had died. I think the total figure will be somewhere over a thousand people, which for a country this size is appalling.

NUNAN: Even after every one of the militia's victims is accounted for, the question remains what investigators will do with the evidence. Indonesia's National Commission of Human Rights accused six top generals of involvement in the violence. But so far, laws do not exist in Indonesia to put them on trial. Legislation for the formation of a human rights court is now slowly going through the channels of parliament. Nevertheless, Indonesia's attorney general, Marzuki Darusman, says human rights trials of the military chiefs are likely.

Mr. MARZUKI DARUSMAN (Attorney General, Indonesia): It's not easy to set a schedule of when the trials are going to take place. But it's a very transparent process and is not falling through the regular procedures that are there within the law.

NUNAN: UN officials say it could be six to nine months before they have a clear picture of the number of people who died in East Timor, but an exact count may never be possible.

Meanwhile, the UN and some East Timorese leaders say it's now time to give the Indonesian judicial system a chance at bringing about justice for East Timor. But the Indonesian military's influential role in government is a concern. And the generals accused of involvement in the bloodshed may be too deeply entrenched in national politics to be prosecuted. If the Indonesian system fails, the UN says it will then push for the formation of an international human rights tribunal for East Timor. For NPR News, I'm Patricia Nunan in Dili, East Timor.

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