Subject: UN Body Delays Approving Timor Probe Until Nov. 15

South China Morning Post Wednesday, November 3, 1999


UN body delays approving Timor probe

REUTERS in New York

A key United Nations body on Wednesday (Hong Kong time) put off approving a probe into atrocities in East Timor until November 15, nearly six weeks after governments first asked for the inquiry, its members said.

None of the experts appointed by Mary Robinson, the high commissioner for human rights, will go to the territory until the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the parent body of the 53-nation Geneva-based Commission on Human Rights, endorses the inquiry.

The layers of decision-making by the United Nations have prompted criticism from organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that bureaucracy and politics coincided to weaken the mission.

Lesotho's ambassador, Percy Metsing Mangoaela, a vice president of ECOSOC, said informal consultations he chaired on Tuesday (New York time) decided not to move forward the date of the group's next meeting, originally scheduled for November 15.

However, Tuesday's session in the 54-member body had been called specifically to see if the process could be accelerated.

But Mr Mangoaela said some nations wanted more time to study reports of the September 27 Geneva meeting as well as a report on the financial implications of the mission.

Several European members of ECOSOC said there was no vote on whether to speed up the process which apparently was opposed by ECOSOC's governing bureau, composed of Italy, Indonesia, Belarus, Colombia and Lesotho.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan has asked for Ms Robinson's investigators to give him their conclusions by December 31 on alleged atrocities in the territory.

Rampaging militia, with the aid of the military killed, looted and burned to protest an August 30 vote in East Timor for independence from Jakarta.

Experts fear evidence will disappear and that the short time span before they file their report leaves little time to find out who gave the orders, if anyone, for the mayhem in the former Portuguese colony Indonesia invaded in 1975.

Francesco Paolo Fulci, president of ECOSOC, said earlier that Ms Robinson had sent him a confusing note on whether she actually needed the endorsement of his body to go ahead and at the same time urged him to act on the issue quickly.

Asked why the 15-member Security Council often made decisions with less paperwork, Mr Fulci said, ''We are not the Security Council. There are rules.''

''The UN bureaucracy can be really incredible,'' he added, saying it had taken a month for papers to reach New York.

Diplomats in Geneva said that report was delayed, first by bickering over its wording, particularly by allies of Indonesia, opposed to the investigation in the first place. Translations also took longer than expected.

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