Letter: Inaction over Timor

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Inaction over Timor

Sir: It is more than a month since UN troops reached East Timor, but there is still no sign of the start of the international war crimes investigations promised by the UN.

At the beginning of this year East Timor's population was estimated at 850,000. At least 240,000 remain in camps in West Timor under the control of militias; another 100,000 have been forcibly relocated to other parts of Indonesia. The remainder are presumed to be hiding in the mountains, but each time UN peacekeepers penetrate further into the interior, they find only a handful of people. The ominous explanation is that thousands were murdered in the three months before independence by the pro-Jakarta militias and the Indonesian military.

Amnesty International has accused the UN of dragging its feet over the dispatch of war crimes investigators to East Timor. By contrast, in Kosovo preparations for war crimes trials have been in hand since May and the country has been overrun with police and forensic science teams.

It may be that the uncovering of large-scale atrocities in Kosovo would go a long way to justify both the Nato bombing and the maintenance of sanctions designed to oust Milosevic. On the other hand, if you are anxious to get back to doing business with the new Indonesian regime, you may be glad when this East Timor "thing" is forgotten.

Until the international community proves that it is serious about investigating the crimes committed in East Timor, individuals will continue to assume that they can commit human rights violations with impunity. Until there are real chances of those in the dock revealing their backers, then countries such as the UK and US will assume they can make money from helping them. All states have an obligation to punish those responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes.


Newbury, West Berkshire