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Friday, October 15, 1999 Published at 20:23 GMT 21:23 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

UN probes Timor rights abuses

Graves have been unearthed but no evidence of mass murder

The United Nations is to send a team of investigators to East Timor to examine allegations of human rights abuses over the past year.

East Timor
The team's recommendations, to be presented to the UN secretary-general by the end of the year, could pave the way for the setting up of a war crimes tribunal.

Simmering violence erupted into a wave of looting and killing after East Timor voted overwhelmingly on 30 August to secede from Indonesia.

[ image: UN-backed troops continue their search for militia members]
UN-backed troops continue their search for militia members
Human rights groups and pro-independence supporters have claimed that hundreds, even thousands were killed by anti-independence militias.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, said the five-strong team would examine existing evidence before going to the territory next month.

"We owe it to the people of East Timor to investigate seriously and objectively the terrible reports of human rights violations and establish responsibility for any crimes committed," she told a news conference in Geneva.

Spirit of co-operation

Two of the team's members will come from Asia - a move intended to appease Jakarta, which has strenuously rejected any international commission of inquiry.

The group will be led by Sonia Picado of Costa Rica, a member of the country's legislative assembly. The other members are AM Ahmadi, a former Indian chief justice; Mari Kapa, deputy chief justice of Papua New Guinea; German lawmaker Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger and Judith Sefi-Attah of Nigeria.

"I intend to work in a spirit of co-operation with the government of Indonesia," Mrs Robinson said. "I am acutely aware that this is not easy at all for Indonesia."

[ image: East Timorese wait for relatives who fled to return]
East Timorese wait for relatives who fled to return
She said she hoped Indonesia's own national inquiry would examine any human rights violations in neighbouring West Timor.

Several hundred thousand East Timorese fled there after violence broke out following the August vote.

Although atrocities are not disputed, the UN said on Thursday that it had yet to uncover evidence to support allegations that the militias engaged in systematic mass murder.

A UN representative in the former Portuguese colony said that, although dozens of people had been killed and large numbers remained unaccounted for, no mass graves had yet been found.

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency is doubling its repatriation flights from West to East Timor. Indonesia has given the agency free and unimpeded access to the refugee camps and it hopes to fly back up to 2,000 people a day.

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