Subject: SMH: Evidence taken from 'torture centre'

Sydney Morning Herald Thursday, May 4, 2000


Evidence taken from 'torture centre'

By MARK DODD, Herald Correspondent in Dili, and agencies

United Nations police and human rights investigators have begun inspecting what is claimed to have been a militia torture centre used last year to force independence activists to support integration with Indonesia.

The existence of the alleged torture centre, near the south coast town of Zumulai, was reported by local residents, Ms Barbara Reis, a spokeswoman for the United Nations Transitional administration in East Timor, said yesterday.

She said witnesses had told how two weeks before the August 30 referendum, about 70 members of the Mahidi militia group from Ainaro kept 29 activist leaders and pro-independence Timorese nside the house. One of the objectives was to force them to sign statements in support of autonomy in East Timor.

Civilian police said they had strong evidence that at least two people had been executed there. Investigators are taking evidence from witnesses and former detainees. Other evidence includes manacles, clubs, blood-spattered walls and empty shell casings.

The Mahidi (Life or Death Integration) militia, led by Cancio Lopes de Carvalho, was one of the most extreme of the pro-Jakarta militias. Its members are also linked to the Suai Cathedral massacre which left - by some accounts - as many as 200 killed.

The UN's chief human rights official in East Timor, Ms Sidney Jones, said about 80 people were in detention linked to post-ballot violence, mostly murder or rape. Ms Jones said the best estimate of the number of people killed in last year's violence was between 1,000 and 1,500.

"It is certainly higher than the number of cases currently under investigation," she said.

The transitional administration chief, Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello, yesterday officiated at a ceremony marking World Press Freedom Day in the Dili suburb of Becora, where on September 21 a Dutch journalist, Sander Thoenes, was murdered by soldiers from the Indonesian army Battalion 745.

Several days later, an Indonesian reporter, Agus Mulyawan, was shot dead in eastern Los Palos by pro-Jakarta militia. Other victims included an East Timorese radio reporter, Bernardine Guterres, murdered on August 26.

Refugees, worried by reports of harassment in East Timor, have virtually stopped returning from the neighbouring Indonesian province of West Timor, according to the UN refugee agency.

Many who remain in camps in West Timor are former Indonesian soldiers, pro-Indonesian militia members or their relatives.

"What's holding them up is the fear of reprisals in East Timor," a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said. Only "several dozen" people had registered to go back over the past week end

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