Subject: On a cool, green hill, investigators dig for E Timor victim

On a cool, green hill, investigators dig for East Timor victim

RAILAKO, East Timor, Dec 23 (AFP) - There was not much left of body number 258, but a team of UN civilian police officers and soldiers from the International Force for East Timor (Interfet) set out Thursday to find as much as they could.

An unsettling marker told them where to look. A black shirt hung by its outstretched sleeves from some vines, above a small pile of rocks on a mound of earth about 30 minutes' drive southwest of the capital Dili.

A soiled pair of trousers with a belt still looped in them rested on the stones in plain view of motorists passing on this road to Ermera.

Tomas Castanon and Friedrich Prax, two police officers from the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor, had discovered the burial site as they drove along the windy mountain road enveloped by thick vegetation.

Prax is a veteran of the first UN mission here, which supervised the August 30 ballot when East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia.

Now Prax has returned to help investigate the many murders linked to an Indonesian-backed campaign of terror ahead of and after the vote.

On Thursday, Prax and Castanon went back to the burial site with a three-man team from the investigation section of Interfet's Military Police Company.

As a sign of respect for the dead, local residents had placed a banana, a mango, a bottle of water and some money on the stones.

Staff Sergeant Byron Hall videotaped the scene. The investigators cut down the black shirt and stretched it out on a white plastic bag they had unzipped and laid out on the ground.

Wearing rubber gloves, Hall lifted up the tattered trousers. In the pocket he found a blue headband espousing the pro-Indonesia autonomy option from the August 30 ballot.

Militias, backed by the Indonesian armed forces, forced people to wear pro-autonomy headbands and other paraphernalia.

Hall laid out the pants and the headband on the white bag and then explained his findings to the video camera now operated by Corporal Wayne Fee.

The shirt bore the words "heavy metal" and was decorated with pictures of skulls beneath a small hole about the width of a man's finger.

"Doesn't appear to be any staining around the hole," Hall told the camera.

He turned back to the mound of dirt and began to move away the stones. Ants crawled in the soil around a thick piece of yellowed bone about 30 centimetres (12 inches) long.

Sergeant Alan Cooper, a military policeman from the Royal Australian Air Force, unzipped another white bag and placed the single bone in the middle of it.

Cooper took still photographs and Fee continued filming as Hall gently dug with a shovel into the mound of dirt where the bone had rested.

After sifting through a few shovelfuls, they decided there was nothing else in that spot.

"It's just a mound but you've got to have a look anyway," Hall said.

Prax climbed a short distance down the slope and found a discarded Indonesian army ration can. Castanon and Hall descended another 10 metres (yards) through the bush.

"We're going to need the camera down here," Hall called. "There's another bone here in a bag," he said before emerging with the pieces in his hand.

They laid them out on the white bag as well -- three ribs, a lower jaw with most of the teeth missing, a tooth, and another piece of bone that looked like it came from a yellowed, broken bowl.

Fee recorded them all in a small notebook.

Then they measured the distance of the small grave from the edge of the road, and the distance down the slope which stretched out toward the sea far to the north.

"You have any indications concerning the identity?" Prax asked Hall. There was nothing, but Prax was optimistic.

"This shirt, everybody has seen. It should be possible to find out the identity."

"Do you want a body number for this?" Hall asked the policeman. "258."

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