Jakarta rules out UN human rights inquiry

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The Independent Online
AS MORE atrocities by Jakarta-backed militias came to light yesterday, Indonesia agreed for the United Nations to speed up its civilian takeover of East Timor, but flatly ruled out proposals for a UN probe into human rights abuses. The rejection came after the UN Commission for Human Rights gave the go-ahead for a preliminary international investigation, which could lead to a full-scale war crimes tribunal similar to those operating for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

"We reject the UNCHR resolution," an Indonesian goverment spokesman said, indicating that outside representatives could instead take part in Jakarta's own probe. But such an exercise has already been dismissed in advance as a whitewash by human rights groups and other observers, who cite growing evidence that the Indonesian army supported the militias and in some cases even played a part in the mass slaughter of civilians.

In the latest gruesome evidence of such violence, a Reuters television team in the Dili suburb of Tasi Tolu found a truck containing 10 charred bodies, which had been tied up, hacked apart with machetes, then soaked with petrol and set on fire. Militiamen and the Indonesian police carried out the the outrage, according to eyewitnesses.

While the refusal to countenance a probe means that the UN investigators will be denied access to Jakarta's military files, they will still be able to speak to witnesses and victims in East Timor itself - especially since the UN looks set to take effective control there more quickly than planned.

At the moment the priority is to get food and other essential supplies through to the most devastated areas, with Britain's Gurkhas leading a supply convoy which left yesterday for Lospalos in the east of the territory, where renegade militias and regular army troops are believed to be holding out. These elements have been accused of the murder of more than a dozen people, including two nuns and a priest, in the past week. But Lieutenant- Colonel Mark Lillingston-Price, the Gurkhas' com- mander, warned his men were ready to use lethal force if neccessary, to get the supplies through.

However, if an agreement at talks in New York between the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Ali Alatas, and the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, holds, the UN may take charge well before formal endorsement by the Jakarta parliament of East Timor's overwhelming vote for independence on August 30.

That approval is unlikely before late October at the earliest. But while Mr Alatas insisted that formal control would rest with Jakarta, he indicated that the UN personnel on a "de facto basis" could go to Timor now to start on restoring housing, power, water and sanitation - essential services destroyed during the militia rampages in the days after the referendum result was announced.

Even so, though life in the capital Dili is returning to normality of a sort, the situation last night across swathes of the territory remained fraught with danger. On his way to Jakarta for talks with the President BJ Habibie and the armed forces commander, General Wiranto, the US Defense Secretary, William Cohen, told Indonesia to rein in the militias.

According to US officials, up to 4,000 militia men might be planning attacks against the international force, still far below its full strength of 7,000.