Police in East Timor have uncovered a mass grave of 52 people at the government palace in Dili, with initial examinations suggesting the bodies are not Timorese, an official said Tuesday.
Construction workers discovered the remains last week in a garden outside the beachfront government palace, which houses the office of Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, and contacted police.
In 1975 Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony, starting a 24-year occupation in which an estimated 183,000 people were killed or starved to death.
But East Timor’s Criminal Investigation Service Commander Superintendent Calisto Gonzaga said that while a preliminary examination suggested the bones could date back to 1975, they appeared too large to be Timorese.
“We look at the heads and they are very big and some bones are very long. In summary I think they are not Timorese,” he said.
“Until now we’ve found 52 bodies, but only 11 bodies are complete,” Gonzaga added, saying the way they were buried indicated homicide.
Gonzaga said police would wait for an expert from Australia, expected to arrive in July, before making further investigations.
Australian professor Damien Kingsbury said if the bones were not Timorese it was most likely they were Chinese.
“The Chinese were still in Timor when the Indonesians invaded in 1975 and they were one of the primary targets of the Indonesian military at that time,” he said.
Kingsbury, an expert on East Timor at Australia’s Deakin University, said Indonesians would not have buried their own people in a mass grave, and it was less likely the bodies were Portuguese.
In 1999, East Timor voted to become an independent nation in a UN-sponsored referendum.