Subject: UN police in E Timor overwhelmed by militia murder cases

UN police overwhelmed by militia murder cases

DILI, East Timor, Dec 13 (AFP) - UN police in East Timor have been overwhelmed by the number of murder cases they must investigate with limited resources after the wave of violence that swept this territory after its August 30 vote for independence.

"We currently have probably about 120 files," said Superintendent Martin Davies, the London detective who heads a team of about 15 investigators at the Dili headquarters of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET.)

"It is totally overwhelming. We are having to prioritize everything."

A UN civilian police took over responsibility for all investigations from Interfet, the international peacekeeping force, a week ago.

Military police had been investigating crimes since the peacekeepers arrived on September 20 to stop a campaign of murder, rape, arson and forced deportation conducted by militias and their backers in the Indonesian armed forces.

"They are leaving a small team of investigators behind to ensure the transition goes smoothly," Davies said.

He said his office was trying to give priority to cases where forensic evidence was in danger of being lost as the rainy season arrived.

But some evidence was inevitably disappearing, he said.

"It is obvious that things we would like to be able to secure, we just cannot do it at the moment," said Davies, a five-year homicide investigator with the Metropolitan Police in London, England.

Interfet soldiers have been helping to collect evidence but Davies said he was waiting for other foreign experts to arrive.

"We have been promised people from Australia, from England and from Norway. Hopefully these people will come sooner, rather than later," he said.

The head of UNTAET, Sergio Vieira de Mello, made a similar appeal on November 24, when he said evidence was being lost and urged the swift arrival of foreign forensic help.

Davies said a second priority area for his investigators were cases where suspects were already in custody and trials could be expected in the new year.

About 25 murder suspects are currently held by Interfet in connection with the recent violence, Davies said.

Although police were working on close to 120 files, the number of murders was higher than that because the cases include massacres at churches in the towns of Suai and Liquica, and a massacre at the police station in Maliana, he said.

"We have not really been able, since we have taken over, to work out the full extent of the atrocities that have taken place," he said. Until refugees return to East Timor it will be unclear whether they were dead or have been staying elsewhere, he said.

In addition to the murders, the headquarters team is looking into about four rape cases. One victim was raped and murdered, Davies said.

"We have received information all the time that a lot of rape atrocities took place," he said. The victims, however, have been reticent to talk about their horror.

"Out here, obviously, we're starting from scratch. We've got to put something in place to encourage people to come forward," he said.

Most murder cases linked to the militia violence were handled by the headquarters team. Davies said another 30-35 investigators work in the districts outside Dili.

The total number of investigators should double in the next few months, he said.

The militias, backed by elements in the Indonesian military, went on a rampage after it was announced that East Timor's population had voted overwhelmingly for independence.

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