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Tuesday, October 19, 1999 Published at 21:29 GMT 22:29 UK


World: Asia-Pacific

Mass grave unearthed in Timor

Unknown numbers of bodies are believed to be in this creek

International peacekeepers have discovered a mass grave in East Timor - the first since they arrived in the territory more than a month ago.

East Timor
Australian peacekeepers found more than 20 bodies in the town of Liquicia, 20 miles west of the capital, Dili, following a tip off from local people.


The BBC's David Willis: "The smell tells it's own story"
A team of military investigators has been sent to the scene and Red Cross officials were due to examine the remains.

Spokesman Colonel Mark Kelly said it was "the first discovery of bodies of this size". But he refused to release details on whether the corpses had been concealed or dismembered or shot.

The BBC's David Willis in Liquicia says three burial sites were found within half a mile of each other.


Colonel Mark Kelly: The site has been sealed off
Australian peacekeepers believe that one location - a dried-out creek in Liquicia - could contain multiple bodies.

At another - a house across the road - military police believe a 19-year-old girl was hacked to death. They have also discovered a body on the nearby beach.

Nervous villagers told the BBC that people had been stopped at roadblocks, and pro-independence supporters weeded out and hacked to death by a group of up to six people.

United Nations officials are due to arrive in the next few days to investigate allegations of human rights atrocities in the territory.

Their inquiry was set up by the United Nations Human Rights Commission despite opposition from Indonesia, which has said it will conduct its own investigations.


[ image:  ]
The grave in Liquicia is the first evidence supporting the many reports of genocide which followed the vote for independence nearly two months ago.

Until now, only a few bodies had been uncovered in separate locations.

It is believed that attempts were made to hide many of the victims. Some bodies have washed up along East Timor's northern coastline.

A wave of killings and destruction followed an overwhelming vote for independence by East Timor's 850,000 people, in a referendum on 30 August.

In the next few days, Indonesia's assembly is expected to ratify East Timor's right to independence after almost 24 years of army-enforced rule from Jakarta.

All 11 factions in the People's Consultative Assembly agreed on the matter on Monday and correspondents say the vote should be a formality.

Refugees return

Aid agencies are bracing themselves for the return of tens of thousands of refugees now in camps just across the border in West Timor.

Officials reported on Tuesday that several hundred people had crossed the border on foot on Monday.

It is the first group of such size to attempt the crossing and it is thought likely bigger groups could follow soon.



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