A thoroughly bizarre story appeared in Rupert Murdoch’s Australian tabloid, the Herald Sun yesterday. Reporters Rob Taylor and Olivia Rondonuwu suggest that the UN mission in East Timor tried to cover up a May 25 massacre in which 12 unarmed East Timorese police officers were gunned down by a group of renegade Timorse soldiers. The reporters base this claim on a leaked email in which the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General in East Timor allegedly instructs UN employees against cooperating with an Australian investigation into the massacre.

But the government of East Timor, however embattled at the moment, retains the sovereign right to investigate crimes that take place on its own soil. To that end, UNOTIL has offered to make evidence it may possess available to Timorese authorities. But absent permission from the government of East Timor, UNOTIL cannot turn over evidence (such as autopsy reports, statements, and testimony) to a third party.

To be sure, Australia wields great influence in East Timor. So if Canberra decides to make this a priority, it can surely convince Dili to give UNOTIL permission to work with the Australian Federal Police investigating the incident. And for the record, the Spokesman for the Secretary General confirmed to me that if authorized by East Timor, UNOTIL will turn over any evidence it may have to the Australians.

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