Subject: IPS/ETimor: Faster UN Probe Urged on Discovery of Bodies

RIGHTS-EAST TIMOR: Faster UN Probe Urged on Discovery of Bodies

By Sonny Inbaraj

DILI, Oct 21 (IPS) - Immediate attention should be focused on investigations into human rights atrocities in East Timor, after Indonesia's parliament voted Wednesday to relinquish claim over the former Portuguese colony, say human rights monitors.

The vote by the People's Consultative Assembly, which accepted the results of the Aug 30 ballot where nearly 80 percent of East Timor's voters opted for independence, settles the issue of its status and formally sets the territory on the road to independence.

The plea by rights experts for full focus on unearthing evidence of human rights crimes comes as multinational peacekeepers on Tuesday discovered a mass grave in Liquica, about 30 km west of the capital Dili, containing the remains of up to 20 bodies.

That was the largest discovery of bodies so far in the month- old international security operation.

A number of mutilated bodies have also begun washing up on the western coastline in Suai, some 30 km from the border of Indonesian-controlled West Timor.

Multinational troops are also examining a site in Suai, where witnesses said as many as 200 people were killed in a Indonesia- supported militia attack on the town's cathedral in the wake of the Aug 30 vote.

Almost three weeks ago, the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Commission acted and authorised an inquiry into the crimes against humanity that had gone on in East Timor. But the inquiry's experts have yet to arrive.

''The grave concern of human rights workers is the significance of the human rights atrocities that have taken place -- the killings and murders,'' said Danny Brown, an Australian human rights monitor in Dili.

''And if there's any delay in the arrival of expert international personnel there will be significant deterioration, contamination and even tampering of sites,'' he explained.

''These probes must be top priority, now that the question of the vote seems settled with Indonesia,'' added Brown, who is collecting evidence of atrocities in East Timor and relaying them back to Australian rights groups.

On Oct 12, Brown took IPS to a municipal dump outside Dili where the charred remains of 10 people were clearly visible at the back of an abandoned, burnt-out truck.

Brown said he was aware of 21 bodies in seven different sites along the 70 km-long road from Dili to Ermera in the west.

''There seems to be a consistent pattern I've observed in my travels around East Timor -- which has been correlated by anecdotal evidence from locals -- bodies having been dumped by militia and Indonesian military by the side of the road as they have been retreating,'' added Brown.

Pro-Indonesia militias went on an orgy of killing and destruction in Dili and elsewhere in East Timor after the announcement on Sept 4 of the outcome of the UN-held ballot on the future of the territory.

Brown said that at the moment, there was a large gap between the international community and the forensic experts who could undertake the investigations and provide evidence for prosecution.

''It seems to me that there is a lack of coordination and liaison between the international agencies and the local Timorese groups,'' he said.

It was expected that the inquiries would begin immediately after the UN Human Rights Commission recommended it on Sept 27.

The UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, moved quickly to appoint his Human Rights Commissioner, Mary Robinson, as head of the inquiry and said the investigation should be conducted with ''urgency''.

However UN procedure requires final approval of the commission's recommendation from a powerful committee of the UN General Assembly before it can go ahead.

Even though the inquiry is regarded as a pressing agenda item for the UN, the Economic and Social Council of the General Assembly will not meet to discuss the matter until Oct 26 at the earliest.

''There has been a lot of rhetoric at the UN level and if that rhetoric is not translated into action on the ground -- bearing in mind that we're talking about six weeks after the majority of these atrocities were committed, there will be severe implications in the future -- in terms of the ability of the East Timorse being able to tell the outside world of their stories,'' said Brown.

In the meantime, it has fallen upon the Australian-led International Forces in East Timor (Interfet) to gather and preserve what evidence they find of abuses. But the Australian Defence Force readily admits the task is beyond them.

''Interfet lacks the investigative horsepower to do it but is securing the sites so that others can do the investigation,'' said an Australian Defence Forces Interfet spokesman Col Duncan Lewis.

He said the commander of Interfet, Major-General Peter Cosgrove, had made his concerns known to the UN and had requested more resources for investigations.

But the onset of the rainy season in East Timor could further complicate matters.

''The wet season will start very soon and many fear that vital evidence and some of the bodies could be washed out by the rivers,'' said Anna Noronhe from the East Timor Human Rights Centre, an NGO.

Noronhe and her colleagues had uncovered more than 130 bodies in the course of their two-week work in Dili recently.

''Two weeks of work and further documentation, we found something like 136 bodies just in Dili. And we're not talking about those that were found in houses that were burnt. It was just graves of two to three bodies, five to six bodies together,'' she explained. (END/IPS/ap-hd-ip/si/js/99)

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